Pep Guardiola turned up the heat on his Manchester City stars by demanding improved individual performances.
The last 10 days have brought a distinct change in the mood of City’s manager, who had spent much of this campaign shielding players from criticism by bemoaning a non-existent pre-season amid an injury crisis.
Guardiola has now turned the focus on his squad after making a string of surprising calls with recent team selections.
Aymeric Laporte has not featured in any of the three matches since defeat at Tottenham and failed to make the bench for last week’s 5-0 demolition of Burnley, a game that also saw last year’s top scorer Raheem Sterling an unused substitute.
‘All the players know now there are players who play good and don’t play the next game,’ Guardiola said.
‘There is a misunderstanding about the word rotation. Rotation looks like “I’m a big star and now I don’t play this game because I’m going to play the next important game (instead)”. This is a huge mistake for the players to have in their heads.
‘Now they know that having 19 or 20 players fit they have to raise their standards and play in as high a level as possible. That’s the only way to get close to the biggest teams in Europe and the biggest team in the Premier League.
‘Aymeric continues to be really important for us but right now I’m playing other guys. In future I’m pretty sure he’s going to play a lot of games.’
City - again without striker Sergio Aguero - go into Saturday's home game against Fulham six points adrift of the leaders, although possess a game in hand.
Guardiola chose to reference stability in his players’ home lives as crucial to continued selection.
‘If you want more you have to show me on the grass,’ he added. ‘Training session, your private life, everything.
‘We have to fight to do it better. And we can only do that by demanding more and more of ourselves. It’s the only way. They have to feel that there are six or seven incredible players who don’t play and who are waiting.
‘During 11 months you can drop a little bit, it’s normal. But they have to compete, they have to do a performance like they’ve done in the last two games, Burnley and Porto - this is the level from which we have to build something important this season.
‘Riyad Mahrez scored three goals against Burnley and tomorrow he’s going to play. Because he scored a lot of goals. The guys who score goals are going to have more chance to play. The guys who don’t make mistakes behind are going to play. This is about the performance.’