Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne fury over James McClean 'challenge'
Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva have claimed the lack of protection being given to Manchester City players is becoming a serious concern at the club as they echoed Pep Guardiola's pleas for referees to clamp down on X-rated challenges.
City players have been at the centre of 10 controversial incidents this season when opponents have escaped with a booking or no censure for challenges that could have yielded red cards and, in some cases, caused injury.
Brahim Diaz became the latest victim when cleaned out by a studs-up challenge from Matt Phillips in City's 3-0 win over West Bromwich Albion on Wednesday.
Phillips was given only a yellow card - as was James McClean after he launched himself at De Bruyne, with no attempt to play the ball.
The Belgian playmaker managed to ride that challenge en route to scoring City's second goal.
The Phillips and McClean incidents came just three days after City winger Leroy Sane was ruled out for seven weeks with ankle ligament damage following an appalling tackle from Cardiff's Joe Bennett that earned him a yellow card and prompted Guardiola to demand more protection for all players.
Bennett was later sent off for a second bookable offence after a reckless challenge on Diaz.
Questions have been raised about a system that prevents the English Fa taking retrospective action over incidents where a player has been booked and the referee is deemed to have dealt with the matter. The governing body does not want to be seen to be re-refereeing games.
But De Bruyne, who has been a particular target this season, and Bernardo are worried the situation is getting out of hand and want a crackdown from referees and the authorities that protects all players.
"Sometimes it gets frustrating for us," De Bruyne said. "A lot of teams are making a lot of fouls against us. We make a foul, we get a yellow card.
"I don't know how it's possible sometimes. I know sometimes there are tactical fouls but it's just the way it is.
"I don't know what they (opponents) are thinking - you can also pull a shirt, that's more effective than a tackle."
Bernardo echoed De Bruyne's sentiments when asked if he felt City were being targeted.
"Obviously," the Portugal forward said. "The coach and everyone already spoke about that. It's clear that over the last few months - we've seen with Leroy it was a terrible accident and now he's injured for two months. Today it could have been Brahim, it could have been Kevin on the second goal.
"I think, as the coach says, the referees have to do their job and if it's a red card they have to give the red card.
"They are not doing that over the last few months. We hope that soon they start protecting our players because the way other teams are tackling our players it's not part of the game, it's not fair play and they have to try to punish the players that play this way."
De Bruyne admitted he was shocked by McClean's challenge after watching it on a replay.
"I didn't know the tackle was like that, I've just seen it. Let's just say the ball was not in the neighbourhood," he said.
"The referee told me he (McClean) didn't touch me good enough to get the red card but obviously I told him, 'I saw the guy, I was jumping'."
De Bruyne has also been clattered by Crystal Palace's Jason Puncheon and stamped on by Tottenham's Dele Alli this season.
Raheem Sterling was the victim of a studs-up challenge from Harry Kane in the same game and Ilkay Gundogan was taken out at knee height by Jacob Murphy of Newcastle - none of which resulted in red cards.
City have not been entirely blameless. West Brom midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak was substituted in the first half on Tuesday following a perceived stamp by Fernandinho.
The City midfielder will not face action from the FA after the incident was seen by referee Robert Madley, who felt there was no intent.
Bernardo, who joined City from French side Monaco last summer, believes English referees are too lenient.
"France is really physical - I think maybe even a little bit more than here," he said. "What you have here is obviously the referees let you play a little bit more so the game is more intense."
© Daily Telegraph, London