David Moyes is hopeful that West Ham United defender Angelo Ogbonna will step up his recovery from injury with a view to returning after the March international break.
Ogbonna had played all bar 27 minutes of the Irons’ top-flight campaign before missing the 3-0 win over Sheffield United, having been a staple of the backline at the London Stadium with 23 starts.
Who should Ogbonna replace once fit?
Play him with Diop & Dawson
He should replace Diop
He should replace Dawson
Neither, he’ll have to wait
West Ham visit Manchester United on Sunday with Ogbonna now one of several potential absentees, with Moyes alert to “a couple of slight doubts” after a slew of minor injuries.
“Angelo is doing great,” Moyes said on Friday. “He’s back in the gym regularly. He’s out of his boot and we’re expecting him to start some running on the AlterG, which is the machine that takes a bit of your body weight off.
“He’s coming along and I’m hoping that, maybe by the end of the international break, we might have him back on the grass in some capacity. There are signs that we’re getting him back.”
Moyes has also welcomed Arthur Masuaku back to training this week, having been without the DR Congo international since Manchester United visited West Ham on December 5 after undergoing career-saving knee surgery.
“Arthur’s trained two or three days this week with the U23s and trained with me for a couple of days now, so Arthur’s getting much closer to match fitness and all-round fitness generally,” the Hammers boss added.
Moyes having Ogbonna back after the March international break will come as a huge boost for West Ham in the London Stadium natives’ push for a top four finish, with Champions League football a distinct possibility for a club who narrowly staved off the threat of relegation just last season.
The Hammers enter the weekend only two points behind Chelsea in the last of the Premier League’s qualifying places, albeit with a game in hand over the Stamford Bridge outfit, who visit Leeds United in the early Saturday afternoon kick-off.
Having a game in hand could prove crucial with West Ham facing a difficult end-of-season run, with matches against fellow European football hopefuls Arsenal, Leicester City, Chelsea and Everton to come after visiting Manchester United on Sunday.
Moyes will no doubt be keen to have Ogbonna back available for those games, with the centre-half able to have a big say in proceedings, having lauded the £4.5m-rated enforcer as a “magnificent” and “really important” leader last month.
Ogbonna had also begun to build a promising relationship with Watford loanee Craig Dawson, which former England international Steve Howey believes had allowed the pair to get the most out of one another.
“It’s always good when you’ve got that good understanding and a bond in a relationship with your partner back there,” he told Football FanCast. “You can understand what he’s really strong at, what he’s kind of a little bit susceptible to, you can kind of read each other’s minds a little bit.”