Pep Guardiola admits injury-plagued Manchester City defender Benjamin Mendy faces an important challenge to prove his long-term fitness and reliability over the final weeks of the season.
Mendy has seen his career hindered badly by injuries since his move from Monaco nearly two years ago.
The 24-year-old has started just 13 league games for the defending Premier League champions in that time and played only 11 minutes of football since the start of November as he has battled back from a series of knee injuries.
Mendy has been in full training this week but, when asked if he is confident that Mendy can return to the high levels of form he displayed at the start of his City career, Guardiola conceded the left-back must prove — and maintain — his fitness.
“If he has consistency — two months, three months, no injury — he will come back without a problem,” said Guardiola.
“But if he comes back, then comes back again three months later, then two weeks, then three months, no.
“Most important is a week’s training, day-by-day, and if that happens with a good reaction in the knee, of course he will come back.
“I think the physicality is not a big problem. It’s more what we want to do, what we’re looking for, the spaces, the rhythm and the pace.
“Sometimes you need time when you don’t play but I don’t have doubts.
“He knew he needed more in his knee. He’s a strong guy but he needs the power to sustain his efforts. He’s getting better but he needs more time.”
Mendy’s off-field antics and social media profile have made him a hit with City supporters, although not always with a manager who has been forced to question his professionalism at times.
However, when asked about Mendy’s current mindset and his desperation to rejoin City’s quest for honours, Guardiola is in no doubt that the player needs more time before rushing back to action.