Manchester City are investigating Benjamin Mendy’s controversial New Year’s Eve party as Premier League clubs prepare to lay down the law amid a spate of Covid-19 rule breaches.

Pep Guardiola launched a passionate defence of his under-fire defender’s character after Mendy became the latest in a growing list of high-profile footballers to be caught breaking Government regulations by celebrating during the festive period.

Mendy held a New Year’s Eve party which included guests from outside his household. The mixing of different households indoors is banned under the Government’s Tier 4 restrictions.

Manchester City are investigating Benjamin Mendy’s (above) controversial New Year’s party

Manchester City are investigating Benjamin Mendy’s (above) controversial New Year’s party 

Mendy (left) admitted breaking lockdown rules by throwing a New Year's Eve party

Mendy (left) admitted breaking lockdown rules by throwing a New Year’s Eve party

A spokesman for Mendy said: ‘Benjamin and his partner allowed a chef and two friends of his partner to attend his property for a dinner party on New Year’s Eve.

‘Ben accepts that this is a breach of Covid-19 protocols and is sorry for his actions in this matter. Ben has had a Covid test and is liaising with Manchester City about this.’

In confirming their internal probe, a spokesman for City said: ‘While it is understood that elements of this incident have been misinterpreted in the reports, and that the player has publicly apologised for his error, the club is disappointed to learn of the transgression and will be conducting an internal investigation.’

The Man City defender invited two non-household guests and a chef to his £5million mansion

The Man City defender invited two non-household guests and a chef to his £5million mansion

Mendy, after providing a negative test, was included on the substitutes’ bench for City’s win at Chelsea yesterday. But while Guardiola acknowledged the France defender’s wrongdoing, he refused to throw Mendy under the bus. The City boss said: ‘Benjamin already had Covid in the past, he has been tested every day like all the other players.

‘He has explained, he knows what he has done and he will learn in the future. He is part of the group, he is one of the guys who is much beloved in our group. In the stands today he was the most active player. He is a special guy for us and has an incredible heart. I would like to see how many people will now judge him and see if they have the good intentions that he has.

‘But he has to understand some things. I would like to know how many people did this on New Year’s Eve, but normally in this society we judge the others when first we should judge ourselves.

‘I’m not justifying it, he broke the rules. But don’t give too many lessons to the others.’

Man City's Pep Guardiola says Benjamin Mendy did what other people did on New Year's Eve

Man City’s Pep Guardiola says Benjamin Mendy did what other people did on New Year’s Eve

When asked whether the high-profile nature of football should mean players live by more stringent rules, Guardiola added: ‘I don’t agree with this. We only do our job. But I don’t think footballers are more important than a doctor, or NHS workers, an architect or a teacher at school for my kids.

‘Why are we more important than the others? We have the same responsibility as any other person. But of course we have to follow the rules because the virus is here.’

Mendy’s party came just a few days after Manchester City’s clash against Everton was postponed after the Etihad club reported five positive Covid tests. Mendy is just one of a host of top-flight players accused of disregarding Covid regulations during the festive period. A photo including Tottenham players Sergio Reguilon, Giovani Lo Celso and Erik Lamela and West Ham star Manuel Lanzini at a gathering appeared on social media over the weekend. Images of Fulham striker Aleksandr Mitrovic and Crystal Palace midfielder Luka Milivojevic celebrating together also emerged. All clubs involved have condemned their players for flouting regulations.

Guardiola claims footballers should not be treated in a special light compared to others

Guardiola claims footballers should not be treated in a special light compared to others

Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho called the decision to postpone his team’s clash against Fulham just three hours before kick-off last week following an outbreak at the Craven Cottage club ‘unprofessional’.

Top-flight clubs will this week reinforce to players the importance of strictly following Covid protocols away from matches and training to prevent further embarrassment.

Tottenham stars Sergio Reguilon, Erik Lamela, Giovani Lo Celso and West Ham's Manuel Lanzini are believed to have broken Covid-19 rules by spending Christmas together

Tottenham stars Sergio Reguilon, Erik Lamela, Giovani Lo Celso and West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini are believed to have broken Covid-19 rules by spending Christmas together

The majority of clubs want the season to be completed as normal, knowing any curtailment could have a fatal financial impact. Team bosses are growing increasingly concerned about a fixture backlog and increased public pressure for football to be placed into another total lockdown, a prospect the Premier League want to avoid. They have already written to clubs to ensure they follow the protocols strictly. But the top flight’s rules only encompass training and match-related days — with off-the-pitch protocol having to be reinforced by the clubs.

Prior to the festive period, clubs warned squads to refrain from holding parties to avoid a public backlash if discovered.

But one source told Sportsmail: ‘Backroom staff know they can’t stop players mixing with others away from the training ground — but we are stressing to them to take every precaution not to get caught.’

Crystal Palace captain Luka Miliovojevic (left) was seen breaking Covid rules at a New Year’s Eve party with Fulham's Aleksandar Mitrovic (right)

Crystal Palace captain Luka Miliovojevic (left) was seen breaking Covid rules at a New Year’s Eve party with Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic (right)