Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne is not guaranteed to be in the starting lineup when the league leaders host Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, manager Pep Guardiola said on Friday.

De Bruyne, 27, was one of City’s most influential players last season with eight goals and 16 assists, and he averaged 36 league appearances in the last two seasons for the champions.

Knee injuries have sidelined him for large parts of this season, however, and the Belgium international has started only four Premier League games.

“It’s quite possible,” Guardiola told reporters when he was asked whether De Bruyne would be on the bench. “At the end, we judge the players for who they are but they are there to perform.

“There are times when team mates are in better condition. In football, what you have done in the past, you have to do in future.”

De Bruyne did not start Wednesday’s 2-0 win at Everton, and Guardiola said it was a tactical decision to leave him on the bench.

“At Goodison (Park) they play with a lot of set-pieces, we are not a tall team so we wanted players for that,” Guardiola said.

“We try to control the players; he (De Bruyne) played the last two. At Everton he got a few minutes, I want him to play as much as possible, he went out for five minutes and he was incredible.

“I want him to sustain that for a long time. When you’re out a long time, I don’t want him playing game (after) game.”