Pep Guardiola has cast doubt over Kyle Walker’s long-term future at Manchester City by admitting the defender cannot play in his preferred system.
The City boss has pioneered a style which involves his full-backs playing in midfield when his side have possession.
It has proved a major success when performed by players such as John Stones and teenager Rico Lewis, but Guardiola concedes it is a tactic for which Walker, 33 next month, is not suited.
“No, he cannot do it,” said Guardiola. “He will always have pace – Kyle at 60 years old will be the fastest player in this room.
“To play inside you have to have educated movements that he doesn’t have every one of the characteristics. He has done really, really well but this shape of three at the back and two in the middle, he cannot do it.
“It is just a question of skills. The quality sometimes you need specific things, there are players whose qualities would be like asking Riyad Mahrez playing full-back and he cannot play as a full-back.”
Walker looks set to miss out again at Southampton today, which will mark just the second time in his City career that he has been benched for three successive league games when fit.
But Guardiola insists he has not lost belief in the England defender and that Walker simply has to apply himself in order to regain his place.
“Be himself. Train well and he can play in the three at the back on the right,” he said.
“Sometimes we are playing Manuel Akanji or John Stones for that reason. The reason why is a tactical reason, not that we have lost faith in Kyle.”
City visit St Mary’s with prolific striker Erling Haaland available again after missing last weekend’s 4-1 win over Liverpool with a minor injury.
And, having surprisingly lost in the Carabao Cup to the Saints under their former boss Nathan Jones, Guardiola will now be facing a third different Southampton manager this season in Ruben Selles.
There have been a record 13 managerial changes in the Premier League so far this season, but Guardiola joked that the key to avoiding unemployment is simple.
“It is modern times, unfortunately,” he said. “Before, it was more difficult to sack managers and today it’s always around the corner.
“If we don’t win games, I would be sacked. It’s not because my hair is better than the others! I’m not sacked because we win a lot of games.
‘In this country when I was younger, it always had the tradition to keep the managers.
“What happens today with a lot of pressure for everyone, a lot of investment, in a way I understand there’s a lot of pressure. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It is what it is, you have to adapt.”
With Arsenal not in action until their visit to Liverpool tomorrow, City have the chance to cut the Gunners’ lead at the top of the table to five points, but Guardiola claims there is nothing to be gained from playing first in such title run-ins.
“I don’t see an advantage,” he said. “Sometimes when we’ve made a title race with Liverpool, we’ve been before or later.
“We play Arsenal in two or three weeks. If we drop points, Arsenal will be champion in advance. If we win, we could be champions on the last day. We are used to it, so it’s not a problem.”