Pep Guardiola slammed referee Lee Mason's performance. Photo: Nigel Roddis/BackpagePix

LONDON – Pep Guardiola slammed referee Lee Mason yesterday for failing to protect Manchester City’s ‘artists’.

Guardiola was furious after Joe Bennett’s horror tackle forced Leroy Sane off with an ankle injury. Sane will be out for at least two weeks and could face up to a month on the sidelines after he was wiped out by Bennett just before half-time.

Cardiff’s left back was lucky to avoid a straight red but later received a second yellow for scything down substitute Brahim Diaz.

Guardiola remonstrated with Mason at the final whistle and explained: “I’ve said many times, the only thing the referee has to do is protect the players. It’s not just Manchester City players, it’s all players.

“It happened once and then it happened again with Brahim at the end. The players are the artists — they are why we are here — and we have to protect them because I don’t like to see this.”

Sane will have a scan on his left ankle today and is a big doubt for the first leg of City’s Champions League last-16 tie with Basle on February 13 and the Carabao Cup final against Arsenal.

City remain in contention for all four competitions, but Guardiola fears more of his players will suffer serious injury if officials don’t act. “It’s not just my players, it’s players in general. Any team can play how they want. If they decide to play in that way, perfect. But there is one man, in black, he has to decide what is correct.

“I need the players to win the four titles. We will just look to survive and go to West Brom and try to win step by step with the players we have.”

City had a Bernardo Silva strike wrongly ruled out in the first half. Replays showed Sane was level with the Cardiff defence, but the video referee was not in use at this tie.

“I was a bit surprised by the decision, but that is not the issue. It is more important how we overcame the situation,” Guardiola said. “We didn’t give up, we stayed focused. We saw how many teams were going out of the Cup and how difficult it is to win these type of games.”

Cardiff boss Neil Warnock accepted his team had been outclassed, but said the Bluebirds were not the only team to hand out some meaty challenges.

“City dished out a bit, they had one or two naughty tackles,” he said.