Pep Guardiola has claimed that he 'admires' Yaya Toure, despite omitting the powerful midfielder from Manchester City's last two matchday squads.
The Catalan coach has been coy on his decision to overlook Toure, who was not used in the 2016-17 league campaign until mid-November.
Fresh doubts have been raised about the former Ivory Coast international's future at the Etihad Stadium, particularly as Guardiola refused to confirm whether he will select the player when City visit Watford on Saturday.
"We need him. I need him and the team needs him," he told reporters. "He was so important last season. He'll be so important this season. He's a part of the group.
"He's a guy who I admire. What he's done in his career, he's an exceptional player. Now he wasn't in the last games or in the squad, but of course he's going to help us."
Asked if that meant Toure would get his first minutes at Vicarage Road, Guardiola said: "We will see."
Toure earned a new one-year deal last season, keeping him in Manchester until next summer.