Pep Guardiola welcomed the return of Aymeric Laporte after Manchester City edged a tough contest against Sheffield United 1-0 at Bramall Lane.
Substitute Sergio Aguero tapped in from Kevin De Bruyne's sublime cross - the Belgian's 15th assist of the season - to earn City victory, but the biggest boost of the night for the visitors was Laporte's first start since he suffered a knee injury in late August.
Laporte settled in on the left-side of a back three as Guardiola looked to counter United's knack of exploiting the channels, and came through 78 minutes unscathed despite suffering one nasty early challenge which earned Mo Besic a yellow card.
"We have missed him a lot," Guardiola said.
"Imagine any of the best teams in the world lose their best central defender.
"It was good news to get 65, 70 minutes in the legs. As a first step it is good and until the end of the season he can help us."
City have suffered defensively in Laporte's absence but Guardiola said he was an important part of his side going forward too.
"He has something we don't have in the squad because of his left foot," he said. "Many actions in the build up, we don't have it. Not because the others are not good but because of the left foot.
"For the way we want to play it's so important, apart from his mentality and character he has all the attributes and when he's fit for me he's the best left-central defender in the world."