Pep Guardiola has conceded he may not be able to give Sergio Aguero much game time before his contract is due to end.
Aguero, Manchester City’s record goalscorer, is back in contention after a season ravaged by injury and illness.
The problem is that the 32-year-old still remains short of match fitness and, with results vital in the quadruple chase, there is little opportunity for City boss Guardiola to ease him back into action.
Uncertainty also surrounds the Argentinian’s future as his current deal expires at the end of the season.
Asked if he hopes Aguero stays longer at the Etihad Stadium, Guardiola said: “As a human and as a person, even as a player, of course – but we have to see what happens at the end of the season.
“We cannot forget how long he was out. He has started getting better. I know he needs minutes to get to his best condition but we are not maybe in the moment to give him minutes for minutes’ (sake) because it is an important part of the season.
“We have to be calm. The club will speak to his agent to know the situation and we are going to talk at the end of the season.
“I don’t know what is going to happen because in my mind right now I am far away from thinking about what is going to happen next season or the players that will be here.
“I am concerned with what we are playing for and I don’t want to be distracted.”
Guardiola’s immediate focus is the Premier League and getting back to winning ways after Sunday’s derby loss to Manchester United.
The result ended City’s 21-game winning run in all competitions and Guardiola, whose side retain an 11-point lead at the top of the table, believes much can be learned from it.
“Football is always a process and you can do better and you can learn,” said Guardiola ahead of Wednesday’s visit of Southampton.
“I love to lose sometimes – when you don’t lose competitions. It makes you realise how difficult everything is in sport.
“We were able to win a lot of games but we can lose a lot of games. Because we won 21 games that doesn’t mean we are going to win more games. Every game we start from zero.”
Having seen his players’ reaction to the loss, Guardiola is confident the necessary lessons will be learned.
He said: “When I see the training, I don’t have any doubts about the way we react.
“It is four seasons playing incredibly well with incredible consistency like no other team has achieved.”
Guardiola, who has won 29 trophies in his glittering managerial career, insists he is not nervous as he approaches the final stage of the season with four more pieces of silverware in sight.
He said: “I’m less nervous being in this position than being in a position behind. I was more nervous last season when we were behind Liverpool from November. I am more relaxed than ever.”
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