Iker Casillas says his recovery from a broken bone in his hand is going better than expected and he could be back between the Real Madrid posts as soon as late March.
Casillas' finger was broken by an accidental kick from his team-mate Alvaro Arbeloa during Madrid's Copa del Rey quarter-final game at the Mestalla on January 23.
It was feared he would face three months on the sidelines, and the club moved quickly to sign Diego Lopez for €3.5 million from Sevilla to play in their likely season-defining games against Barcelona in the Copa and Manchester United in the Champions League.
The Madrid club captain told reporters on Thursday evening, at the opening of a new club shop at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, that the initial timeframe had only been a worst-case scenario.
"I am feeling very positive," Casillas said. "The surgeon gave me the worst-case scenario, he said it could take three months. But when the splint was removed the other day, I was told I had four weeks left. Now I am doing active exercises to get mobility and strength back in the finger."
Casillas said he had been working hard at Madrid's Valdebebas training facility to get back playing as soon as possible.
"Until now I have not had much strength in it, but I am getting it back little by little," he said. "We are at the halfway point of the injury. I have still got a month to go. I will have to work more and suffer more to get back the mobility of before. I am looking forward to returning. It is worse being off the pitch than on it."
The event was also attended by Casillas' team-mates including Arbeloa, Xabi Alonso, Karim Benzema, Angel Di Maria, Jose Callejon, Nacho and Kaka, although coach Jose Mourinho was absent.
Alonso told reporters that he did not know yet whether he would recover from his groin problem in time for next Tuesday's Copa semi-final second leg at Barcelona's Camp Nou.
"I am in the recovery stage," the midfielder said. "I am trying to get better as soon as possible, to get rid of the discomfort and return in top form. A lot of people ask when I will be ready. I hope to be able to play against Barca, but I do not have an answer right now."
Former Liverpool player Alonso said that, with the tie balanced at 1-1, whoever scored first in the Champions League last 16 return game at Manchester United on March 5 would be favourites to progress.
"They will have the support of their fans," he said. "It is going to be a challenge. The side that scores first will be favourites. Old Trafford is a great ground and it is the kind of match we all like to play. The tie is very open."
Di Maria said that it might suit Madrid to be playing away from home in both of the upcoming, potentially season-defining, games.
"Things are going well and we hope to continue this way," he said. "We know that we have to have big matches in both competitions and that it will not be easy. Maybe playing away will be in our favour because we do well when things are against us. We have had this week to work on the best way to approach the games. I hope everything goes well."
Benzema, who remains a doubt for Saturday evening's La Liga game at Deportivo La Coruna, said he was not worried about his recent poor form in front of goal.
"I hope that I score more goals than I have so far, but the important thing is the squad and to win the upcoming matches," he said. "We have to work together to win. We have a great team and we are all in good form."