Chelsea are set for a welcome injury boost as Michael Essien is expected to make a quicker-than-expected recovery from knee surgery.
The Ghana international was ruled out for six months after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament in July.
But Chelsea coach Andre Villas-Boas says the midfielder may be back before the turn of the year.
"Essien is making good progress. We're looking at the end of December, I think," Villas-Boas said.
If he returns in December, Essien could be called up in Ghana's squad for the Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea in January.
Essien also missed most of the 2008/09 campaign with a knee ligament injury.
Essien joined Chelsea from French club Lyon in 2005 in a £24.4m deal and has gone on to establish himself as a key player at Stamford Bridge.