Manchester - Aymeric Laporte's return to training has given Manchester City a huge boost ahead of their Champions League last 16 tie with Real Madrid next month, but Pep Guardiola is wary of rushing the French defender back into action.
Laporte suffered knee ligament damage in August and his presence has been badly missed as City's Premier League title defence has crumbled to leave them 14 points behind runaway leaders Liverpool.
City's failure to replace departed club captain Vincent Kompany exacerbated the problem caused by Laporte's loss. The lack of form and fitness of John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi has forced Guardiola to pick converted midfielder Fernandinho as his first-choice centre-back.
Laporte's return could prove vital though in City's quest to win the Champions League for a first time and retain the League and FA Cups.
"Aymeric is training every day," said Guardiola at his pre-match press conference for Sunday's game at Aston Villa. "He feels no pain and after training he feels good, but I don't know when he will be ready to play some minutes.
"I'm not the doctor but what I see on the pitch is he moves well. He is not a small guy like Raheem Sterling who recovers quickly, but his movement for being four or five months out is good."
Guardiola also hopes Leroy Sane will be fit by the time the Champions League resumes. The German suffered cruciate ligament damage in his right knee in the Community Shield in August.
"You have to respect the process and when both are ready, they'll be in contention and we will be thinking about when to use them."
City travel to Madrid for the first leg of their tie against the 13-time European champions on February 26 before hosting the Spanish giants on March 17.
However, Sane may not have much of a future at the club with his contract expiring at the end of next season and the winger seemingly keen on a summer move to Bayern Munich.
"It's a question for Leroy, his agents and the club," added Guardiola.
"What's important now is that he has to recover well and after that he knows what we think of him, that we believe in him.
"What I want is for him to come back fit. His knee looks really good and after that, honestly, it's not of my business. It's not in my hands."
Guardiola used a striker-less system to gain revenge on Manchester United with a 3-1 League Cup semi-final, first leg win at Old Trafford in midweek.
However, either Sergio Aguero or Gabriel Jesus seems set to return for Sunday's trip to Villa.
Aguero is only one goal from equalling Thierry Henry's record of 175 as the top scoring Premier League overseas player.
"To equal or score more goals than a legend like Thierry Henry is an incredible achievement," Guardiola said.
"Sergio has adapted perfectly. He is a guy in the box with a sense of goal and he score from everywhere and is an incredible striker."