Pep Guardiola has warned Sergio Aguero cannot solve Manchester City's goalscoring problems on his own as the Argentina striker prepares to make his latest return from injury.
Aguero missed the start of this season as he continued to recover after undergoing meniscus surgery in June.
He featured in October's 1-0 win over Arsenal and scored a penalty in City's opening 3-1 Champions League victory against Porto, only to pull up with a hamstring injury at the halfway point of the club's next Premier League outing at West Ham.
City's all-time record goalscorer remained an unused substitute as Guardiola's side went down to a 2-0 defeat at Tottenham on Saturday - a result that leaves them languishing in the bottom half of the table with 12 points and 10 goals from their eight top-flight matches so far.
For a team that has scored 102, 95 and 106 in their past three completed league campaigns it represents a startling drop-off, with Aguero's enforced role on the periphery easy to identify as a major part of the problem.
Since Guardiola took charge of City in 2016, Aguero has scored 78 Premier League goals, with his attacking colleagues Raheem Sterling (64) and Gabriel Jesus (43) next on the list.
In terms of shot conversion, the trio are similar, with Aguero netting from 24.5 per cent of his attempts - a shade below Sterling on 26.2 and a touch better than Jesus (22.3). When it comes to converting those opportunities Opta classes as big chances, Jesus (36.5 per cent) is far more wasteful than Sterling (50.5) and Aguero (53.4).
Where the one-time Atletico Madrid favourite stands apart is the frequency of his goals, which come every 107.9 minutes. Jesus' goals-per-minute reading is 131.1, with Sterling further back on 174.7.
The England winger improves to one every 152.1 minutes if counted from the beginning of the 2017-18 campaign, although Aguero’s astonishing return falls to 103.7 counting from City's "centurions" season onwards.
"I'm not going to say that we don't need Sergio, we need him," Guardiola said of Aguero, who is out of contract at the end of the campaign.
"But Sergio is 32 years old and was five months injured with a difficult and dangerous injury.
"He came back, played 50 minutes [then] 55 and he was injured again.
"We want it and I want Sergio fit. I am not discovering how important he is for us, what he has done in the Premier League. But we have to be careful to not get back again and be injured again.
"You have to see the moment to put him [on the pitch]. Hopefully it can be soon and he can maintain the regularity to play games."
Aguero is likely to feature during either the midweek Champions League trip to Olympiacos or Burnley's visit the Etihad Stadium next Saturday.
A packed schedule has City in action every midweek until the end of England's festive fixture period - a situation that is far from ideal as Guardiola ponders tactical tweaks to a team that again showed familiar flaws in north London.
"It's impossible. Impossible," he replied when asked how realistic it was to make major adjustments on the training field.
"But all the clubs are the same - I'm not saying we are at an advantage or a disadvantage. But it is impossible. There is not time."