Manchester City playmaker Kevin De Bruyne is rediscovering his best form following injuries but he will need more time to start regularly despite a solid display in Tuesday's League Cup win over Wycombe Wanderers, manager Pep Guardiola said.
De Bruyne, 30, widely regarded as one of the world's best midfielders, suffered facial injuries in City's Champions League final defeat by Chelsea in May and played in Belgium's Euro 2020 quarter-final loss to Italy with ankle ligament damage.
Making only his second start of the season, De Bruyne scored a goal and lasted the full 90 minutes to help holders City rout third-tier opponents Wycombe 6-1, but Guardiola said his talismanic midfielder needed a "proper pre-season."
"The European Cup wasn't perfect and after he had an injury for the national team he needs to be fit, to be physical in the right rhythm," Guardiola told reporters.
"And that's why it was so good what he did knowing he's not in the perfect way ... but step by step he's better."
Guardiola said he was impressed with De Bruyne's defensive contributions.
"In previous games he played good but his backwards (runs) were not good ... He didn't run backwards like he runs forward and today he did it for the first time," Guardiola added.
"Step by step Kevin will be back because I know he's an incredibly professional player and he loves to play and we need him so much."
Guardiola said midfielder Phil Foden, who also got on the scoresheet and provided two assists, was working his way back to full fitness following an injury while on England duty.
"Phil was injured for two months," Guardiola said. "He doesn't need many games to take his rhythm because he's a guy who lives 24 hours to play and his physicality is sharp."
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Stephen Coates)