Kurt Zouma ‘s recovery from injury is ahead of schedule and the Chelsea defender could return to action as early as October.
The 22-year-old has not featured for the Blues since damaging his anterior cruciate ligament against Manchester United in February.
An early diagnosis suggested Zouma would be unlikely to play again in 2016 but he has made good progress and is currently with the rest of Antonio Conte’s squad on a pre-season training camp in Austria.
The Italian coach is adamant Zouma will not be rushed back but the defender himself is hopeful he will soon be available for selection after featuring alongside his colleagues during a brief session involving ball work earlier this week.
“I didn’t know I would be back on the training pitch by now, I thought it would be a bit later,” he told the club’s official website.
“But my knee is okay and I don’t have any pain, which is great. The time has gone quite quickly, it’s been five months but it only feels like about two.
“I don’t know, I will need to discuss that with the manager and the medical team,” Zouma said when asked of a potential return date.
“I’m not fit enough yet but hopefully in six weeks or a couple of months I will be, we will have to wait and see.”
A time frame of six weeks would see Zouma return to fitness in early September, which is set to be a crucial month for the west Londoners.
The Blues face Swansea on September 11 before a two difficult fixtures against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and London rivals Arsenal.
Zouma’s injury proved to be particularly untimely as he had finally forced his way into the Chelsea team on a regular basis before damaging his ACL.
But the France international is determined to stay positive as he closes in on a return to action: “It’s been really hard but if you’re strong mentally you can do anything.
“It’s important to stay positive in your mind and say to yourself: ‘Okay, I’ve been unlucky to get a bad injury but I will come back stronger.'”