Jadon Sancho could make his first appearance in 14 weeks when Manchester United host Reading in the FA Cup.
Last month United manager Erik ten Hag said the winger was “not in the right status or fitness state” having done an individual fitness programme in the Netherlands rather than travel to the squad’s winter camp to Spain.
Ten Hag said patience was paramount with Sancho, who resumed group training last Tuesday having returned to Carrington earlier in January and could be involved against Reading this weekend.
“He is training with the team and we will see,” the United boss said of the 22-year-old, who last played in October’s 1-1 draw at Chelsea.
“So, he’s improving, he’s making steps and we will make the decision after training.”
Pushed on whether Sancho could feature in Saturday’s fourth-round tie against Reading, Ten Hag replied: “I said he’s on the way back, he’s making steps.
“He’s back in team training and now we have to see when he’s ready to go back into the games.”
Sancho’s return, whenever it comes, will be a boost to United as they continue to fight on all four fronts and fight through a relentless run of fixtures.
That period is almost certain to include a trip to Wembley for the Carabao Cup final, having won Wednesday’s semi-final first leg at Nottingham Forest 3-0.
That result means United can rest some key players in next week’s return fixture, while the Dutchman will be tempted to rotate against Championship side Reading on Saturday night given they are heavy favourites.
“But that’s on paper,” Ten Hag said of facing Paul Ince’s Royals. “Football is never decided on paper, we have to be ready for every game, every opponent will be tough and especially in the cup.
“That is, for them, a perfect chance. We have to be aware of that. We have to be on the front foot, fully focused and full of energy.
“I think tomorrow we will have a strong selection for this game. We have a good squad, we have depth in the squad.”
Ten Hag is looking to balance the need for strength in depth with the need for young players to develop on loan elsewhere.
Anthony Elanga, Facundo Pellistri and Zidane Iqbal are among those to have been linked with temporary exits, as has 22-year-old Brandon Williams.
“We have our ideas,” Ten Hag said of potential outgoings. “For some players, we are open for loans but some players we are not.
“I think they have to develop first in our environment and we have many games to cover, so we need also players to cover that.
“When you play in 30 days 10 games you need a lot of players.
“The way we put on Pellistri (as a substitute against Forest) that is already a signal (about his future).”
On United full-back Williams, who saw last season’s loan at Norwich prematurely ended by injury, boss Ten Hag said: “I think that counts for Zidane, definitely also for Brandon.
“He had a bad injury, he’s on the way back. He was in pre-season for the restart.
“Now he is in the squad, he was in the selection in Forest, so he is really a part of it. It’s also a little bit up to him.
“I like him, but we have to work with him and see where his development can go.
“Then it’s also about him to find the moment where he can deserve his chance and to take this chance.
“But when he wants a loan, we have to talk about that.”
United have loaned 19-year-old midfielder Charlie Savage, son of former Wales international Robbie, to League One side Forest Green for the rest of the season.