Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini insists Nigel de Jong remains a crucial part of the club's plans this season.
The Dutch international has been relatively unused by the Citizens this season, making his first start of the season at Sunderland and being pulled off at half-time during the 1-0 defeat at the Stadium of Light.
With the 27-year-old's contract set to expire at the end of the season and a new contract yet to be agreed, his Etihad Stadium future remains unclear, but Mancini is confident he can prove his worth this term.
"Nigel had too many problems when we started the season, two months off for injury," said Mancini, referring to a foot injury which kept De Jong out of action in August and September.
"After this the squad played a different system with two strikers, two offensive players like wingers and only two midfielders. For this reason Nigel did not play a lot of games but he is still an important player. There is no change in this situation. Now he can play.
"I think it is normal that one player, when he doesn't play, is frustrated. For him it is difficult but now we are playing five games in 16 days and we need our players."
De Jong can expect more chances in the opening months of 2012 though, with midfielder Yaya Toure set to be unavailable for the Citizens whilst away on international duty with Ivory Coast at the African Cup of Nations.
That should give the former Ajax starlet a chance to prove his worth in the Barclays Premier League, with De Jong likely to feature alongside Gareth Barry.
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