Crystal Palace’s hopes of avoiding relegation have been boosted by Wilfried Zaha’s potential return to their squad for Saturday’s game at Chelsea, with the Ivory Coast forward back in training after almost five weeks out with knee ligament damage.

Zaha, who strained the ligaments against Newcastle last month, rejoined his team-mates at Beckenham on Thursday for a light session and will be assessed again before the match at Stamford Bridge. Palace have yet to claim a point without the 25-year-old this season – he suffered a similar injury in the opening-day defeat by Huddersfield which ruled him out for more than two months – and, if there is no reaction, he should be available.

Roy Hodgson, who hopes to have Mamadou Sakho and Ruben Loftus-Cheek playing a full part in training next week, described Zaha’s recovery as “remarkable” and will be cautious on the forward’s involvement but his presence even among the substitutes would constitute a huge fillip.

“He was able to join in with the team today for the first time, albeit in a modified session, which is enormous progress really,” said the Palace manager. “We have to be careful because it was a serious injury and, under normal circumstances, we wouldn’t have expected him back this week.

“But he’s so far ahead of schedule. I’ve got to make it clear: it is a remarkable recovery and we have to be very careful to make certain that, just because he can take part in two modified training sessions, he really is coming back as the Wilfried Zaha he was before the injury. But the initial prognosis had been that he would be back towards the end of season, rather than in just six weeks, so I would be delighted if it was possible for him to play any part on Saturday. It’s still early days. What we definitely don’t want to do is push him back that week too early and then miss him at the end of the season.”

Sakho, who has made only one substitute’s appearance since tearing a calf in December and had been suffering discomfort from scar tissue recently, is due to return to the first team on Friday. “He’s not been with us for weeks now … seems like months,” said Hodgson. “It would be unrealistic for him to start the game [at Chelsea]. But if he’s physically fit, medically and mechanically, there’s no reason he couldn’t be involved.” More realistic for the France defender may be the critical game at Huddersfield before the international break.

Loftus-Cheek, the loanee from Chelsea who hurt an ankle in late December and then complained of knee pain having trained with his parent club’s under-23s last week, attended Palace’s defeat by Manchester United on Monday. He has been kept apart from Chelsea’s senior squad given his association with Palace, undertaking his rehabilitation work in the academy building, and is due to train with the development squad at Cobham over the weekend. All being well, he will report back at Palace on Monday.

“My hope is that he will come in on Monday, walk into the treatment room, they will say: ‘How are you feeling, Ruben?’ and he will say: ‘I’m feeling great, what time does training start?’” said Hodgson. “But I’ve had a few disappointments lately so I’ve learned to lower my level of hope and optimism.”

Blogger/Football Analyst at Sportskick
Michael Okoye is an ardent football fan as well as a writer. He lives somewhere in West Africa with Lions and Leopards for company. He takes interest in football and detests mediocrity in sports writing. He has a massive man crush on Juan Mata. A Chelsea fan and a great lover of wits and sarcasm.
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