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Pep Guardiola reveals reason for favouring Manuel Akanji over John Stones



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Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has revealed his reasoning for starting Manuel Akanji ahead of John Stones last weekend.

The 53-year-old opted to play Manuel Akanji ahead of John Stones for Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium, as Manchester City lost ground to both Liverpool and Arsenal in the Premier League title race.

City, who could have moved to the top of the table with wins over both Chelsea and Brentford, cannot move above Liverpool with a win on Tuesday night as a result of settling for a second successive draw to Chelsea.

Raheem Sterling’s first-half goal was cancelled out by Rodri’s thunderous effort in the 83rd minute on Saturday evening, with the Spaniard netting his seventh goal of the campaign.

The draw, which has raised eyebrows due to the selection of both Akanji and Julian Alvarez, brought the Blues’ 11-match winning streak to an abrupt end.

Manchester City registered 31 attempts against Mauricio Pochettino’s side but struggled for control against the west London club, drawing in a manner similar to November’s 4-4 draw at Stamford Bridge in the reverse fixture.

Akanji has played just twice since early January after suffering an injury against Huddersfield Town in the third round of the Emirates FA Cup, with Saturday’s 1-1 draw the Swiss defender’s third appearance of the year.

Stones had recently been preferred against FC Copenhagen in the UEFA Champions League last-16 first-leg, with the Englishman himself still returning to full fitness after a number of injury setbacks.

Guardiola’s hybrid role for Stones propelled Manchester City to treble success last season, as the 29-year-old helped the Cityzens to the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League.

Akanji also played a pivotal role in City’s success during his debut campaign, starting the Champions League Final ahead of Kyle Walker as well as the FA Cup Final against Manchester United.

The selection of the 28-year-old ahead of Stones on Saturday has been defended by Guardiola ahead of a midweek meeting against Brentford, with the Manchester City manager describing his decision as “normal.”

“There are players that take their rhythm more quickly, but Manu (Akanji) was injured for two, three, four weeks,” said the City boss.

“I rely a lot on Manu, he’s an incredible player and I will decide who plays, that’s all. And as much games you play, the more rhythm you have. That’s normal.”

Guardiola will face a similar dilemma on Tuesday night, with both Stones and Akanji available for a crucial Premier League clash against Brentford.

A victory would move Manchester City above Arsenal and to within just one point of Liverpool.