Pep Guardiola is desperate to have Sergio Aguero back but says he is holding onto the Manchester City striker to ensure he does not suffer any more injury setbacks.
The Argentinian has been eased back into the team after a slow recovery from surgery on a knee injury in the summer and a hamstring setback following his last start in October.
Aguero has been on the bench for City's last four matches, but Guardiola says he considered starting him in the 2-0 victory over Newcastle on Saturday night.
The 32-year-old eventually came off the bench and Guardiola was impressed with his impact. The striker is in contention for Monday's clash with Everton.
"We discussed with [assistant coaches] Juanma [Lillo] and Rodolfo [Borrell] whether to start with Sergio," Guardiola said. "I need him.
"Today was very good news in general in that in the 20 minutes Sergio played, we saw him sharp and dynamic. This is incredible news for us.
"We need him, absolutely. We have to be careful. We cannot do what we did in the past, when he comes back and then gets injured. I still want to handle the minutes but I saw him well. I love this guy."
City are already without Gabriel Jesus and Kyle Walker for the trip to Goodison Park after they tested positive for Covid-19, but Kevin De Bruyne will be in the squad against second-placed Everton which comes fewer than 48 hours after he played 90 minutes against Newcastle.
Despite a Carabao Cup semi-final against Manchester United, as well as an FA Cup clash with Birmingham in January, Guardiola says it is more important to have the Belgium international leading their Premier League challenge.
"He’s outstanding, he is so important for us," the City boss added. "Sometimes, like Arsenal, he didn’t travel. I prefer to have him fit especially in the Premier League. The other competitions are important but we don’t want to be too far away from the top of the league.
"We have a game in hand, against a tough opponent Aston Villa, but in the way we are going to play, we are going to be close to the top. Then we fight to be there in the last eight or 10 games."