Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson says on-loan Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek can be crucial to his side’s hopes of staying in the Premier League.
Loftus-Cheek is fit again after an ankle injury that has kept him out of action since the turn of the year.
The England international has been training with his parent club at Cobham but will return to Palace on Monday – and Hodgson says the 22-year-old can make a big difference for the Eagles.
“We know he can, in terms of his quality,” Hodgson said after watching his side beaten 2-1 by Chelsea.
“When he got injured and returned to Chelsea for treatment, he was a major contender for a place in the England World Cup squad.
“The big question is, can he get back and reproduce that form? I can see absolutely no reason why he can’t.
“He has been passed fit from the injury. From next week he’ll be back in training, Yoann Cabaye will be back in training, [Mamadou] Sakho and Wilf [Zaha] will have a full week’s training as well.
“If that happens my squad will be looking more like it was before Christmas and give me options tactically and in terms of personnel.”
Hodgson admitted a poor first half had forced him to introduce Zaha – who passed a late fitness test to take his place on the bench – a lot earlier than he might have liked.
He said: “I would have preferred to have kept him on the bench longer, but the fact is I didn’t think we were working hard enough, posing enough of a threat and passing the ball well enough.
“The temptation to bring a player of his quality on was too strong for me to resist.”