Guardiola backs De Bruyne to return to his best for Manchester City

Before the illness the Belgian believed he was finding his rhythm after sustaining a serious facial injury in the Champions League final defeat to Chelsea in May and damaging ankle ligaments at Euro 2020.

De Bruyne’s substitute appearance in the 3-1 victory at Watford on Saturday was his first for City since 6 November. Guardiola confirmed the 30-year-old will start the final Champions League group game at Leipzig, with City already through as group winners.

Guardiola said: “Now he has to come back and fight for a position like everyone else. But Kevin doesn’t have to show absolutely anything to me. He has to show himself he’s back, and do what he has to do, like he has done the last five or six years.”

De Bruyne is competing for a place in midfield with Bernardo Silva, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Cole Palmer, Raheem Sterling, Ilkay Gündogan, Gabriel Jesus and Ferran Torres, though the last two are injured.

Guardiola said: “Of course the competition is necessary in the team and he knows it, but Bernardo knows it and Gündogan knows it, and all the wingers and strikers know it. They know they have to play good, playing five minutes, 10 minutes or 90 minutes. I know all of them, they don’t have to show me anything.

“Kevin got corona – he was growing in his physical condition and then it was a setback. It’s normal because the people who suffer corona in the next days, they feel so empty. So now it is step-by-step – he played the first 30 minutes [at Watford]. On Tuesday he will start and we’ll see how many minutes he can play.”

Guardiola has selected five development squad players for Leipzig – Palmer, James McAtee, Conrad Egan-Riley, Josh Wilson-Ebrand and Roméo Lavia.