Raheem Sterling claims Manchester City are being “butchered” by bad tackles.
The England international also fears he or a City team-mate could miss the World Cup if stronger action is not taken to prevent potentially damaging challenges.
A number of the Premier League leaders’ players have been on the receiving end of controversial tackles in recent months, with manager Pep Guardiola repeatedly calling for referees to provide better protection.
Last weekend Leroy Sane was caught by a late studs-up slide from Cardiff’s Joe Bennett and now faces up to seven weeks out with ankle ligament damage.
In midweek Brahim Diaz escaped injury after being hit high by West Brom’s Matt Phillips while, in the same game, James McClean also made a cynical attempt to foul Kevin De Bruyne before a goal.
Guardiola has made his point often enough that he did not feel the need to revisit the issue as he held a press conference on Friday, but that did not stop one of his key players speaking out.
Sterling, himself hit by a bad tackle from Tottenham’s Harry Kane in December, said: “I find it a bit unfair at times.
“I feel that we haven’t been protected enough in certain situations. I think some of the challenges have been awful.
“It’s not what I expect to see in a top-flight football match, especially when teams are losing and just go out to kick players. I don’t think that’s right.
“I do think we need to cut down on that because we’ve got a World Cup at the end of the year and majority of the players in the top flight, and in our team, will be playing in it and it would be sad to see someone miss the tournament due to a silly tackle and someone get away with it.
“There are going to be challenges that are badly timed and probably not all of them are intentional but at the same time if it’s a dangerous tackle, it’s a dangerous tackle and I think the referees and officials need to cut these tackles out because, as you can see, some of the players are getting butchered, butchered out there and it’s sad to see.”
In terms of his own game, Sterling is enjoying the best season of his career having scored 19 goals and laid on six assists for quadruple-challenging City.
The 23-year-old said: “It’s the environment I’m in. I’m just loving it and hopefully that can keep happening.”
Guardiola said of Sterling’s form: “He’s a young player but I think he has shown amazing things at difficult stages this season.”
City face Burnley on Saturday but then do not play again until hosting Leicester the following Saturday, their longest gap between games since the November international break.
Guardiola will give his players a break.
He said: “From Saturday afternoon until Wednesday afternoon the doors of the CFA (City Football Academy) will be closed. We need to not see each other! They can travel, they can do whatever they want. For three days they have to forget a little bit about football.”