Former Liverpool midfielder Graeme Souness has questioned Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola's handling of Kevin De Bruyne.
The Belgium midfielder endured a difficult World Cup despite being in fine form pre-tournament. Since returning from the World Cup, De Bruyne has struggled at times and has found himself out of the starting XI on a number of occasions.
Speaking about his star midfielder's form this week, Guardiola said: "What I'd like - I spoke many times to him - is to go [back] to the easy principles and do it well. He has an incredible ability to make an assist, to score goals and see passes like no one else.
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"But I always have a belief that they will increase and will get better when the simple things, like don't lose the ball, the mobility, the incredible capacity to be active in the movement - the simple things - do it again better and better. When this is going to happen, the rest will come."
Souness has since taken issue with Guardiola's treatment of De Bruyne and he has now called out the City boss in his Daily Mail column. The Sky Sports pundit wrote: "I firmly believe not everything has changed between my day and this one.
"I still think top players know when their standards have dropped. They don't need telling.
"On the whole, they will self-motivate. And this in turn makes me wonder about Kevin De Bruyne and Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.
"De Bruyne has been City's best player for the last five years. He has been one of the top three or four players in the whole country.
"Four Premier League titles. An FA Cup. Almost 100 caps for Belgium. It's some CV. What a player.
"Yet this season he hasn't played in some important games. I was at the one City lost at Tottenham last month, for example, and he didn't start that day.
"Strange. And now Guardiola has dug him out a little in public.
"I have my theories about why this may have happened. It could be part of a deliberate tactic aimed at motivating the whole squad.
"Maybe Guardiola is doing that. Maybe he is poking De Bruyne in order to make sure the rest are ready to up their levels ahead of the most important part of a season that has not always felt easy for them.
"For all I know, De Bruyne may even be in on it. But I also know this: criticising modern players in public is a risk for a manager. I would go as far as to say it is a last resort now and coaches and managers have to be really careful.
"Guardiola is safe as can be at City. He is almost unique in that. He can do almost as he pleases. But even he will know what can happen when a dressing room turns."
Guardiola will have had no complaints with De Bruyne's performance on Saturday as the captain grabbed two assists in a 6-0 victory over Burnley in the FA Cup quarter-finals.