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EPL: ‘De Bruyne and Ake played through fitness issues’

Manchester City playmaker Kevin De Bruyne and defender Nathan Ake played through fitness issues during Saturday’s 5-1 home win over Watford in the Premier League, manager Pep Guardiola said.

De Bruyne has been dealing with a foot problem in recent weeks, while Ake twisted his ankle in their win over Brighton & Hove Albion in the midweek.

Belgian international De Bruyne played 57 minutes on Saturday, providing an assist for Gabriel Jesus’ second goal, and Ake replaced Aymeric Laporte in the 63rd minute despite not recovering fully from the last match.

“I have 14 or 15 players fit and the last few games Kevin and Aymer played a lot of minutes,” Guardiola told reporters.

“Kevin, it doesn’t look like it, but he is playing with some disturbing niggles in his ankles for the kicks he got in the last games,” Guardiola added.

With City set to host Real Madrid in the first leg of the Champions League semifinal on Tuesday and travel to Leeds United for a league game four days later, Guardiola said he was trying to manage the players’ workload.

“Of course, at 4-1, I am thinking about that. It is not just Madrid, it’s Leeds as well. You have seen the schedule,” he said.

“That is why in that moment I am thinking the game is almost over and I give rest in the last minutes to the players who have played a lot of minutes.

“We don’t have lots of central defenders that is why Nathan played with a big problem in his ankle.”

The Spaniard said he does not know if injured defenders Kyle Walker (ankle) and John Stones (muscle tightness) will be fit to face Madrid.

City are top of the league on 80 points with five matches left, four points above second-placed Liverpool who play later on Sunday.

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