Barcelona defender Samuel Umtiti could resume training this month, coach Ernesto Valverde said on Saturday.
World cup winner Umtiti has struggled with a knee injury since the start of the season and, in December, began a programme in Qatar to help his recovery.
He has played only eight games this campaign, the last against Atletico Madrid on November 24.
Valverde, however, is hopeful the Frenchman could soon make a return. “We think that in a couple of weeks he can start training again with the team, we’ll see how things are going,” Valverde said at a press conference.
“I always try to be optimistic and I would like that to happen. I think he has positive feelings, let’s see.”
Umtiti’s absence has left Barca short in central defence, with Thomas Vermaelen also injured for much of the season so far.
The club have signed Jeison Murillo on loan from Valencia to provide cover for Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet, currently the only two fit centre-backs.
“Our idea was that Jeison would be available as soon as possible and he knows the league,” Valverde said.
“He’s going to have to play and we hope to see the best of him,” he added.
Valverde’s own future remains uncertain, despite Barcelona sitting top of La Liga, three points clear of Atletico Madrid.
His two-year contract expires in the summer and while there is an option to extend by another year, a decision has not yet been taken.
“It is true the contract was for two years plus one and at the end of the season it is necessary to decide,” Valverde said.
“We will discuss it later, we are not even halfway through the season. There has always been a good relationship. If you lose one game, you are in trouble here but I have a contract with Barca.”
Barcelona begin 2019 with a tough trip to Getafe on Sunday, who sit seventh in La Liga, boasting a defensive record bettered only by Atletico Madrid.
Real Madrid, meanwhile, are now seven points adrift of the top but Valverde refused to rule them out of the title race.
“We still consider Madrid a candidate for the title,” Valverde said. “Sometimes the gaps seem great but they are not so much, just two and a half games, and we see them as one of our rivals.”
“This year La Liga is tighter, everything is more compressed. But always it is better if we are first.”
Barcelona confirmed on Saturday that Sergi Roberto and Malcom are available again after recovering from hamstring and ankle injuries respectively. Umtiti, Vermaelen and Rafinha are out.