Sunderland boss David Moyes has admitted that the injury absence of Jan Kirchhoff has been felt this season, as the midfielder closes in on a return to first-team action.
The 26-year-old has started just five games for the Black Cats this term due to a succession of injury problems, the most recent of which has kept him sidelined since mid-December.
Kirchhoff required an operation prior to Christmas to rectify a knee problem, but he is now back in training and Moyes could turn to the ex-Bayern Munich man for the visit of Manchester City this weekend.
"You've got to remember that Jan has missed a lot of football either through this injury or other injuries he's had," Moyes is quoted as saying by The Chronicle. "This season we've really not seen a lot of Kirch.
"I think his stature in the middle of the park is important for us as well. He would give us a different look in midfield. We hope that if we can get Jan Kirchhoff and Jack Rodwell back, they'll join Darron Gibson, Didier N'Dong, and Seb Larsson.
"We'll actually have quite a strong group of central midfielders which would be good. And that is without Lee Cattermole, who we hope to see at some stage too."
Kirchhoff featured 15 times for Sunderland in the Premier League last term, playing a key part in their late push for survival after joining from Bayern in January.