Melbourne Victory's championship defence has been dealt a major blow after star Keisuke Honda was ruled out for a month with a hamstring injury.
The club announced on Thursday scans this week revealed the Japan international has a strained right hamstring due to issues with his lower back.
Honda was a late withdrawal for the past two weeks but after consulting specialists returned to training on Monday in a bid to face Western Sydney this Saturday.
The club said the 32-year-old suffered a fresh injury on Tuesday.
"It's disappointing for Keisuke, his teammates, the club and our members and fans," coach Kevin Muscat said on Thursday.
"He was close to playing last weekend -- but we ultimately erred on the side of caution and allowed him an extra week to recover.
"He resumed full training with the group this week, with the intent to play against Western Sydney.
"While there wasn't a specific incident of note, Keisuke reported tightness in the area, so we again sent him for scans and received the results late in the day."
The loss of Honda is a major blow for the second-placed Victory, who have drawn their past two matches without their marquee after winning six in a row.
The former AC Milan star co-leads the Victory with five goals this season, is equal second in the league with assists (three), and also leads the club in chances created (21).
They now enter a vital stretch of the season where they play seven games in the next month, including heavyweight bouts against Wellington and Sydney FC later in January.
They are also set to be without defender Nick Ansell for some time after he too sustained a hamstring issue, but imports Raul Baena and Georg Niedermeier are likely to return.
"While this isn't the news we wanted coming into a busy period of games, we do have some players coming back into the frame for selection, which is a positive and will assist the group," Muscat said.