Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola says midfielder Kevin de Bruyne finished last season “exhausted”.
De Bruyne, 27, has played just five times for City this season after suffering two significant knee injuries.
He has started only twice and is yet to complete a full 90 minutes for the Premier League champions.
The Belgian is back in training and could make his latest comeback at home to Everton on Saturday.
However, after a gruelling 12 months when De Bruyne made 52 appearances in all competitions for City and then played a central role in Belgium’s third-place finish at the World Cup, Guardiola feels the enforced break might be beneficial.
The Spanish manager said: “Kevin finished last season exhausted.
“It was so tough for him and when he came back I had the feeling he was a little bit tired.
“Sometimes people recover quite well, sometimes mentally it takes time. We didn’t want him to be injured but maybe it helped us because now he’s fresh in his mind.”
De Bruyne’s last appearance was against Fulham in the EFL Cup on 1 November.
Guardiola says City have missed the £55m signing from Wolfsburg even though, until last week’s defeat at Chelsea, they had won every Premier League game they had played since that time.
He said: “Kevin is a special player for us.
“He needs to recover his full condition. Hopefully he can avoid more injuries and play regularly again.”