Manchester City's Riyad Mahrez rifles a shot into the net against Cardiff City on Saturday. Photo: David Davies/PA via AP

CARDIFF – Pep Guardiola insisted it was his players who deserved the spotlight after the Manchester City manager returned to the dug-out to inspire a 5-0 thrashing of Cardiff on Saturday.

Guardiola was back on the touchline in the Welsh capital, and the champions were back in the old routine after their shock midweek defeat at home by Lyon in the Champions League.

The Spaniard had watched that match from high in the stands as he served out a suspension.

But he played down any significance in being closer to the action as Riyad Mahrez scored twice, his first goals for the club, in an emphatic victory which kept them in touch with the Premier League pace-setters.

“I don’t play,” said Guardiola, after watching Sergio Aguero, Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan help his team score five or more goals for the 10th time since he took charge before the 2016-17 season.

“The managers, we are there to be there when they have little doubts, to support them.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen with these guys. It’s the same group, they keep reacting, they are an exceptional group.

“But they know when the situation is not good in terms of results, the closer I am to them.

“They deserve all my respect. They made me happy the last two seasons, and that’s why, always, I will be with them.”

City were 3-0 ahead and cruising at halftime, before Mahrez replaced Aguero on the hour mark and scored twice, his first goals since his move from Leicester in July.

The Algerian has only started two Premier League games for the champions, and Guardiola admitted he wished he could offer more minutes on the field to both Mahrez and young England hopeful Phil Foden, who also came off the bench in the second half.

“It’s good for him to get the first goals,” added Guardiola.

“Of course it’s important for him. He came here, he’s an incredibly talented player. He deserves to play more minutes, like Phil Foden.

“It’s a pleasure to watch Phil play football and, of course, Riyad as well. 

“But the season is too long and they have to be ready, prepared, because they are going to play a lot of minutes.”

City are now only two points behind leaders Liverpool after emphatically banishing any suggestions their European angst might leak into their domestic form.

They toyed with Cardiff for much of a one-sided contest, and if they had doubled their scoreline, then the Bluebirds, who dropped into the relegation zone, could have had few complaints.

“After a not good result in midweek, we responded with the same level we had for the last 12 or 13 months,” Guardiola said.

“The first 20-25 minutes is always complicated, not easy, but after one or two goals, immediately it was easier.”