Pep Guardiola has paid tribute to Manchester City star Riyad Mahrez for turning around his poor form this season.
Mahrez was close to his best as Man City routed Chelsea 4-0 in the FA Cup, scoring a brilliant free-kick and tucking away a penalty.
It completes a remarkable turnaround for the Algerian, who was publicly criticised by Guardiola in October for his poor physical condition, but he appears to have now put that behind him.
“He is, step by step, getting better. He is not at his best, but he’s getting better,” Guardiola said.
“Maybe Riyad had a problem coming back from the summer time, not the World Cup. The quality from Riyad is everything.
“He loves to play football, helped us to play the game [today], he played really good. He played an outstanding game playing wider. He never lost that [love]. He loves to play football.
“But if Riyad is sitting here I would say to him, the way Riyad is training and playing is right now [much better]. Even when we were in Abu Dhabi when we trained for a few days [during the World Cup], it was not the same. I was absolutely fair.
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“Riyad is a fantastic player, I know how important he is. But I want the Riyad, last game didn’t play from the beginning in Stamford Bridge and the impact he had [from the bench] is incredible. He is the same person who at Aston Villa, didn’t come on and we draw. So then it depends on them.
“When they play in this way and they complain, I can say ‘yeah, you are right, you deserve to play’. But before he cannot play because he is not playing in the level he is playing now.
“Sometimes I had to let them see in their own mirror who they are. In a long career there are many ups and downs. It is not just about the quality, but there is more in football and now he is playing really since we came back from the World Cup.”
Man City will now face Premier League leaders Arsenal in the fourth round of the FA Cup – if the Gunners can overcome Oxford first.