Aymeric Laporte hopes to return from injury in six to eight weeks and also said Manchester City "still have time" to catch Premier League leaders Liverpool in this season's title race.
The 25-year-old hasn't featured since he suffered a serious knee injury on August 31, which has forced manager Pep Guardiola to use midfielders Fernandinho and Rodrigo in central defence at times.
Laporte is expecting to make a return in the early stages of 2020, and he told The National's Jon Turner: "(My recovery) is going very well. Still I need time, but I hope as soon as possible I can come back and play with my team-mates. I can't say when exactly, but more or less one month-and-a-half to two months."
City lost more ground in the title race following a dramatic 2-2 draw at Newcastle United on Saturday, leaving them third in the Premier League but 11 points behind rampant Liverpool.
Asked whether he felt the Citizens can catch up, Laporte added: "Yes, of course. Last year was quite similar when (Liverpool) had a similar lead, but we still have time this year to recover, to catch them and to again try to win the Premier League, so we hope we can do that. We need to make sure we work a lot and don't lose any more games."
It hasn't been an easy run for the defending Premier League champions without such a prized star. Simon Bajkowski of the Manchester Evening News said Laporte's absence has further highlighted existing holes in Guardiola's squad:
His defence was already weakened after former captain Vincent Kompany left to join Anderlecht in the summer, while John Stones has also endured some injury concerns in recent months.
City have one win in their last five games and failed to keep a clean sheet in their last seven outings.
Guardiola & Co. were unbeaten in four games prior to Laporte's injury, and it seemed telling that the team lost 3-2 at Norwich City—their first defeat of the season—in their first match following his blow.
TalkSport's Matt Scott compared City's different centre-back combinations from last season, illustrating the impact a superior pairing can have:
Liverpool are still yet to lose a domestic game this term—their only defeat of the campaign so far was a 2-0 UEFA Champions League loss at Napoli—and they've dropped just two points in the league.
Sitting between last season's top two is Leicester City in second. Former Foxes scout Steve Walsh recently told Love Sport Radio he thinks the 2015-16 Premier League champions can cause another upset:
Love Sport Radio @lovesportradio
🦊 "We will be right up there" Former #Foxes scout @SteveWalsh5 - who brought #Kante, #Mahrez and #Vardy to #LCFC - believes #Leicester can challenge #Liverpool for the title this season 📞 Call or Whatsapp - 0208 70 20 558 📻 Tune in - DAB 📲 Listen - https://t.co/XWhRQh9myF https://t.co/p5qTHlgr1z
Laporte is on course to return for City in mid-January to early February, with the Etihad Stadium anticipating the return of one of its key defenders ahead of the end-of-season run-in.