Sterling and Mahrez must turn no-win situation to their advantage as Man City launch Carabao Cup defence

The best thing about Tuesday’s Carabao Cup game against Wycombe Wanderers for Luke Mbete, Josh Wilson-Esbrand, Romeo Lavia and the rest is this is a no-lose situation.

Even if Gareth Ainsworth’s League One outfit spring a shock and inflict City ’s first defeat in the competition for 1,762 days, no blame will be attached to the quintet of youngsters who everyone is so excited to see.

It is their more senior teammates who have been dealt a duff hand.

When Manuel Pellegrini surrendered a 2016 FA Cup tie at Chelsea amid a busy schedule at home and abroad, fans lambasted Willy Caballero, Martin Demichelis, Aleksandar Kolarov and Fernando – not the callow youths that surrounded them.

While Pellegrini opted to play his cards of experienced pros in defence for that 5-1 loss at Stamford Bridge, Pep Guardiola has taken the opposite approach – albeit guided by an untimely spate of injuries ahead of trips to Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool.

Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden are working their way back to full fitness and Ferran Torres has impressed during the opening weeks of the season. All three have a decent chance of starting against Thomas Tuchel’s men on Saturday.

The same probably cannot be said for Raheem Sterling or Riyad Mahrez.

Pep Guardiola was not happy with Riyad Mahrez

“Nothing we have done would have been possible without him,” Guardiola said of Sterling in April after he fell out of City’s first XI. Despite a scintillating Euro 2020 campaign for England, the 26-year-old still finds himself in that predicament, however warm his manager’s public words remain as the same questions are asked.

If anything, Mahrez’s place on the margins this season has been a little more surprising. The Algeria star was a clutch player on City’s run to the Champions League final last term and, unlike most of his first-team colleagues, he enjoyed a full and prolific pre-season.

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But here they both are, attempting to shape a contest where the main aim must be keeping teenage centre-backs away from too many confrontations with Adebayo Akinfenwa.

Still, all it takes is one goal. Remember Sterling’s lucky deflected effort to snatch a win deep into stoppage time at Bournemouth in 2017. It’s certainly never likely to feature on his career highlights reel, but his time at City went nuclear from that point.

A couple of goals that no one will remember tonight could be just what Sterling and Mahrez need to propel themselves back into the reckoning for the challenges ahead.