Pep Guardiola has warned Kevin De Bruyne that he faces a fight to win back a regular place in the Manchester City side after a campaign marred by injuries and a coronavirus infection.
The Belgium midfielder returned to action as a substitute against Watford on Saturday but has been told he will start Tuesday’s Champions League match in Leipzig, City’s final fixture in Group A.
The 30-year-old suffered ankle ligament damage at Euro 2020 that prevented him from starting a Premier League game until late September but was just starting to find his form when he tested positive for Covid-19.
“Kevin, at the moment he got coronavirus, was growing in his physical condition and it was a setback,” Guardiola said on Monday.
“But that is normal because people who have suffered coronavirus, in the next days, feel so empty.
“It is step by step. He played his first 30 minutes and tomorrow he will start. We’ll see how many minutes he can play.”
Despite his pedigree, De Bruyne will have to battle for a starting spot at a club where competition for starting places is intense, with Bernardo Silva described by Guardiola as the best player in the Premier League at the moment.
“He has to come back and fight for a position like everyone else,” said Guardiola.
“Kevin doesn’t have to show absolutely anything to me but he has to come back to being himself and show himself he’s back, and do what he has to do. Like he has done the last five or six years, every single three days.
“Of course the competition is so necessary and he knows it, but Bernardo knows it, and (Ilkay) Gundogan knows it, and all the wingers and strikers know it.
“They know they have to play good, (whether) playing five minutes, 10 minutes or 90 minutes.”
City have already secured top spot in Group A and Guardiola is likely to make a number of changes for the game in Germany, confirming that youngsters Cole Palmer, James McAtee, Romeo Lavia, Joshua Wilson-Esbrand and Conrad Egan-Riley will travel.
“For them it’s an incredible experience to be in Europe and see how the opponents behave, how good they are,” he said. “Maybe tomorrow some of them can play minutes because we have five substitutions.”