West Ham Utd have two games in three days over Christmas and manager Slaven Bilic is looking around to see who, among his key players, will be fit to play a part.
The Irons face Aston Villa on Saturday (December 26, 3pm) and Southampton (December 28, 5.30pm) on the back of a winless run that is beginning to deflate the start-of-season buzz that saw the club in the top four.
Andy Carroll will be out of the first game but might be available.
Bilic said: “His injury is not like a big one. But that would rule him out of the game against Villa.
“There is a chance – the chance is small – for all of these players who are out. With Andy there is a little bit of a chance. This is a very tricky period. If some of them play at Villa, it would be a big risk or impossible to put them into Southampton as well. It would be great to mix. Now it looks like Andy might – might – be available for the game.
“Dimitri Payet is ahead of schedule. He should train with us after Villa and is with the fitness coaches. He might be involved in the Liverpool game (January 2) which would be a big boost for us.
“[Manuel] Lanzini is progressing and will probably be available for the Southampton game. It looks like it will be the same squad as against Swansea, but we should have one or two back for Southampton.”
With the congested fixture list, Christmas is cancelled for the Irons – at least the eat-to-excess part of the festivities.
The manager said: “We will train on Christmas Day, in the afternoon, then we will travel to Birmingham. It’s as usual in England – that’s the schedule. It’s not ideal with the injuries we have but it isn’t something we can’t control, so we have to deal with it.”
Meanwhile, Aston Villa present another tricky opponent for the Irons, in the same mould as Swansea.
Bilic said: “Every game is difficult in the Premier League and Aston Villa are struggling, but they played a good game against Newcastle last week. They are fighting for their lives and will have confidence from that away point. I am not expecting anything easier than Swansea .”
Bilic was full of praise for James Collins , who has returned to the first team after a string of injuries, and Mark Noble, who has been awarded a testimonial.
On James Collins
“He wasn’t just good against Swansea. I have said a number of times, he’s a brilliant pro. He has been from day one, whether he was on the bench or just training or playing for five minutes coming or half an hour, or now 90 minutes, he’s magnificent for us.”
On Mark Noble
“I am very happy for Mark, of course. He deserves it for all his hard work over the years, he’s a great player, captain and role model. He deserves is a club legend.”