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West Ham optimistic Kurt Zouma to return from injury ahead of schedule


West Ham are hopeful that Kurt Zouma will boost their push for Champions League qualification by returning ahead of schedule from a hamstring injury.

David Moyes has been considering whether to sign a new defender after losing both of his first-choice centre-backs to serious injury before Christmas. Angelo Ogbonna was ruled out for the rest of the season after having surgery on an anterior cruciate ligament injury in November and West Ham’s selection problems increased when Zouma, who has been outstanding since his £29.8m move from Chelsea last summer, damaged a hamstring tendon against his former club at the start of last month.

There were fears that Zouma was going to be out for up to three months, leaving West Ham reliant on Craig Dawson and Issa Diop for a prolonged period, but the Frenchman’s swift recovery could convince Moyes to alter his transfer plans this month.

The former Chelsea defender is expected to return to training soon and will be hopeful of proving his fitness before the east Londoners visit Manchester United on 22 January, although the trip to face Kidderminster Harriers in the fourth round of the FA Cup at the start of February could be a more realistic target.

However, West Ham, who have not been as defensively sound without Zouma and Ogbonna, could still look for a defender. Dawson has been playing with an injury – Aji Alese and Jamal Baptiste are inexperienced alternatives – and Moyes has been tracking Liverpool’s Nat Phillips and Bournemouth’s Lloyd Kelly. It is understood that a move for Burnley’s James Tarkowski, who is out of contract at the end of the season, is increasingly unlikely this month.

West Ham, who are fifth in the Premier League before hosting Norwich City on Wednesday, could decide that they need extra depth given that they are in the last 16 of the Europa League. They have also considered bringing in cover at left-back, with Aaron Cresswell yet to return from the back injury he sustained against Manchester City in November. However, Cresswell should be fit soon and West Ham feel that Lucas Digne, who is out of contract at Everton, is too expensive.

Other than defensive reinforcements West Ham want a striker to provide competition for Michail Antonio. Blackburn’s Ben Brereton Díaz is on their radar, although an asking price of £25m for the Chile forward could prove prohibitive this month.

Jarrod Bowen, whose sixth goal of the season helped West Ham knock Leeds out of the FA Cup on Sunday, is not worried about whether his form leads to his first England call-up. “I think this season was about progression and getting the call up for England is the ultimate dream,” the forward said. That is out of my hands. My job is to deliver on the pitch and show what I am about. If it happens then it happens. I can only control what I am doing. It is not on my mind. The more you think about these situations which are not in your control, the more it plays on your mind and affects you.”



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