Sergio Aguero is poised to return to the Manchester City starting line-up for the first time since October in Sunday’s FA Cup tie against Birmingham.
City’s record goalscorer has made just nine appearances this season, all but three from the bench, due to fitness issues.
The 32-year-old missed the end of last term and the start of the current campaign after undergoing knee surgery in June. His return to action since has been complicated by a hamstring injury and further discomfort in the knee.
Manager Pep Guardiola has been unwilling to take risks with the Argentinian but now feels he is ready to step up his involvement.
Guardiola said at a press conference on Friday: “Yesterday he trained really well, today he was off. Tomorrow if he feels good he is going to play.
“Sergio, he’s unique, but he’s had a tough injury, really tough. The important thing is his mood is exceptional, better than ever.
“He is an important part of the group, he is incredibly loved, and the important thing is that in the last 10 days or two weeks, his knee’s reaction was really good after the training. This is the best news that we can have.
“He’s going to start and the minutes (to be played) his level, performance or knee will dictate. If he can play 90 minutes it will be great, or 60 or 30 minutes will be great. What’s important is that he has good quality minutes as much as possible. We will see what happens with him.”
Guardiola says Aguero is looking forward to getting back into action but the City boss remains mindful of the workload ahead in this condensed season and will not overburden him.
He said: “It would be great to have him fit and in the best condition. He’s optimistic and positive, he’s been saying he will do a good season, ‘I will score a lot of goals’, and this is the most important thing.
“But we don’t want to put him under pressure. There are games that maybe we don’t need him, but we do for most of the games, for 80 or 90 per cent of games we need him as a striker.”
City have been without the services of eight other players since Christmas Day following positive tests for Covid-19.
Kyle Walker and Gabriel Jesus are now available again after completing their periods of isolation while Ederson, Ferran Torres and Tommy Doyle should be the next to return to training.
Guardiola said: “If (they) are negative in the next test maybe on Friday they can be released for the first training session but Eric (Garcia) and Cole (Palmer) are isolated after being tested positive.”
Third-choice goalkeeper Scott Carson also remains in isolation.
“It’s better to have everyone but we haven’t had it,” said Guardiola, whose side overcame the difficulties to beat Chelsea last weekend and then see off Manchester United to reach the Carabao Cup final.
“So you have to adjust and adapt. We had 14 or 15 players but the team spirit was incredible.
“Every player made a step forward and showed us the way we have to live this season and for future seasons.”
Ahead of this week’s tie, City have announced their owner Sheikh Mansour has purchased the FA Cup trophy played for between 1896 and 1910 – the original was stolen in 1895 – at an auction on behalf of the club. It was the first major trophy the club won in 1904. It will be housed and displayed at the National Football Museum in Manchester.
Guardiola, who oversaw FA Cup success himself in 2019, described the purchase as a “great gesture”.