Pep Guardiola has hailed Phil Foden as a “diamond” whose time will come again.
The Manchester City manager has emphatically dismissed suggestions England midfielder Foden has fallen out of favour or slipped down the pecking order at the Etihad Stadium.
Foden has started just five games for City – and completed the full 90 minutes only twice – since top-level domestic football resumed after the World Cup in December.
It seems a far cry from October, when the 22-year-old delivered one of the best performances of his career by scoring a hat-trick in a 6-3 derby demolition of Manchester United.
Guardiola puts Foden’s recent lack of action down to a number of factors including a World Cup hangover, an ankle injury sustained when City played United again last month and illness.
With other players taking the chance to shine in his place, he now has to wait patiently for his next opportunity.
The City boss said: “If you are saying I don’t trust Phil, forget about it. Phil is our diamond.
“He needs to be himself. I saw other players better than him at times after the World Cup. He struggled with his ankle, a lot.
“He played an incredible effort, playing with pain, but he arrived at the moment when he said, ‘Pep, I cannot any more’, so he had to rest and recover.
“We gave him a week or two weeks off, and after that Riyad (Mahrez) was in his best time of the season and Jack (Grealish) made a step forward.
“Always I say to him, ‘You are so young, next season is a new one. If you drop a little bit this season compared to the previous one, it’s an absolutely normal process’.
“How you handle it is the question. He is training like an animal, there’s no doubt about that, and he will be back.”
City travel to Bournemouth on Saturday looking to get back to winning ways after frustrating draws against Nottingham Forest and RB Leipzig in the past week.
The result at Forest cost City ground in the Premier League title race whilst the draw in Germany left them with work to do in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.
Both performances have attracted criticism of Guardiola’s tactics and selection – and raised eyebrows over the role of striker Erling Haaland – but the manager feels that is unfair.
He said: “The reality now is that we conceded one shot on target against Everton and dropped two points, one shot on target against Nottingham, we dropped two points.
“We had chances and chances but did not score. You ask Pep for a reason? It’s football. There is no explanation.
“Every time, when I see the adjectives from ex-players about the performances it is not nice.
“So Leipzig don’t have the desire? Are they not allowed to dream?
“We made an incredible high press in the first half but they broke it three or four times. Do you know why? Because they are good. Not because we were wrong with our movements.”