Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling has expressed his concern at seeing his team-mates "butchered" by some heavy tackles in recent weeks.
In the FA Cup fourth-round showdown with Cardiff City, Leroy Sane was lucky to escape serious injury after a horrific challenge from Joe Bennett. The German winger will be out for as many as seven weeks, according to manager Pep Guardiola.
When asked about some of the roughhouse treatment the team has been on the end of, Sterling expressed his concern, per Richard Cooke of Sky Sports.
"Some of the players are getting butchered out there and it's sad to see," said the winger. "There are going to be challenges that are badly timed and probably not all of them are intentional, but if it's a dangerous tackle it's a dangerous tackle and the referees and officials need to cut these tackles out."
Sterling went on to call for more protection for players on the end of heavy challenges. "I find it unfair at times," he added.
In addition to Sane's layoff, Kevin De Bruyne is another City star that has been routinely targeted. In the win over West Bromwich Albion, James McClean aimed a lunge at the Belgian. Additionally, Tottenham Hotspur's Dele Alli has tackled the midfielder high and Crystal Palace's Jason Puncheon hacked De Bruyne down, too.
None of those instances resulted in a red card for the player tackling the City star. As noted by Rafael Hernandez, these moments appear to be becoming routine:
Indeed, in the win over West Brom, Brahim Diaz was also on the end of a thigh-high challenge from Matt Phillips.
Journalist Simon Curtis was not pleased with how the situations were handled:
Unsurprisingly, Guardiola has also expressed his displeasure at seeing some of his players targeted.
"The players are the artists and you have to take care of them," he said after the Cardiff encounter, per David Hytner of the Guardian. "That's why you are here and why I'm here. For them, the players."
James Ducker of the Daily Telegraph called for a change in the way these challenges are punished, with retrospective action not permitted if a yellow card is issued by the referee:
Despite the best attempts of some hatchet challenges, City remain on course for a remarkable campaign, as they're still in the hunt for four trophies. The Premier League title already appears to be wrapped up, as they head into Week 26 with a 15-point lead over rivals Manchester United.
With a Carabao Cup final to come and the latter rounds of the UEFA Champions League and FA Cup, City have the chance to achieve something special this season if they can keep their key players in shape. It makes the outrage at such challenges all the more understandable.