Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde has insisted he will not rush big-money summer signing Ousmane Dembele back into action after his long layoff, despite the first Clasico of the season on the horizon.
The 20-year-old, who joined Barca from Bundesliga outfit Borussia Dortmund for around £94.5m during the most recent transfer window, has been sidelined since rupturing his thigh muscle in September.
The player's scheduled absence was set to end this month, with the hope that the Frenchman would be back in contention to start once again when the Catalonians travel to Real Madrid two days before Christmas.
Despite returning to training, however, Valverde has offered some insight into Dembele's current recovery status, and has stated he will not put the dangerous attacker's rehabilitation in doubt by bringing him back too early.
“[Dembele’s] been doing a lot more with the group this week, but he hasn’t completed a full training session yet”, Valverde told his pre-match press conference on Saturday, as quoted by Spanish news outlet SPORT.
Barcelona have to give the world champions a guard of honour before El Clasico? I mean, they are "More Than A Club", honour, integrity and all that stuff, so...— Deji Faremi (@deejayfaremi) December 17, 2017
“Next week we will increase his work load, but the plan is same as before. January is when we hope he will come back.
“It would be premature, risky, even, to bring him back [early]. Our idea at the moment is to leave it until January.”
Barcelona, Bayern Munich and now Manchester City have the longest winning runs in their individual leagues. They all have one thing in common. Pep it!— JJ. Omojuwa (@Omojuwa) December 16, 2017
With Real not featuring in this week's round of La Liga fixtures due to their Club World Cup success on Saturday, Barcelona have the chance to stretch their advantage in the title race to 11 points over Zinedine Zidane's side when they take on Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday.
Despite Dembele still unavailable for the clash, there is positive injury news for the Catalans, with Andres Iniesta and Javier Mascherano set to make their returns after layoffs.