Manchester City named only six substitutes for Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Burnley as they have run out of players, says manager Pep Guardiola.
City have spent £418m on their squad since Guardiola arrived in 2016, but seven senior players are out injured.
The manager recently called on referees to protect players after Leroy Sane was injured in an FA Cup win at Cardiff.
Asked if it was a surprise that City could not field a full squad, Guardiola said: “Yes, but they are injured.”
He added: “We do not have any more players.”
For the trip to Burnley, the Premier League leaders were without forwards Sane and Gabriel Jesus, midfielders David Silva, Fabian Delph and Phil Foden, plus defenders John Stones and Benjamin Mendy.
Guardiola named club-record £57m signing Aymeric Laporte among his substitutes at Turf Moor, along with the experienced Claudio Bravo and Yaya Toure.
However, he also named three inexperienced players aged 21 or under – defenders Tosin Adarabioyo and Oleksandr Zinchenko, plus midfielder Brahim Diaz.
Teams can name a maximum of seven substitutes.
BBC Radio 5 live pundit Pat Nevin suggested that Guardiola’s selection could be interpreted as a protest against recent challenges made on City players.
Both Diaz and Kevin de Bruyne were on the end of late tackles during Wednesday’s 3-1 win over West Brom, while winger Raheem Sterling claimed on Friday that City players are being “butchered” by bad tackles.
Asked if Guardiola was trying to make that point, Nevin said: “Yes, 100%. I think you’ve nailed it there.”
Guardiola said he decided not to promote any of his players from the elite development squad – the under-23 side – because they played against Swansea on Friday.
He said they would have been wasting time sitting on the bench at Burnley when they could have been getting match time with the Under-23s instead.
Clubs are allowed to name up to 25 players aged over 21 in their Premier League squad, although only 17 of those places can be filled by ‘non-homegrown’ players.
City’s squad contains 18 players over 21, although that does not include Brazil striker Jesus, who is classed as an under-21 player because he was born after 1 January 1996.