Everton striker Romelu Lukaku is targeting a comeback at the beginning of March to help their push for European football.
Lukaku, on a season-long loan from Chelsea, has returned to Merseyside after undergoing treatment on an ankle injury sustained during the 4-0 defeat at Liverpool on Jan. 28.
Manager Roberto Martinez, whose side are sixth in the Premier League ahead of Wednesday's home game against Crystal Palace, has indicated that there is an outside chance the Belgium forward could be involved in Sunday’s FA Cup fifth-round tie against Swansea at Goodison Park.
But both the manager and the player believe a more realistic goal would be the league fixture at home to West Ham on March 1.
Everton do have a game between those two fixtures, away to Chelsea on Feb. 22, but Lukaku is ineligible for that match because he cannot face his parent club under Premier League rules.
Martinez said: “With Romelu, we have real positive news. He’s back with us and is going to be ready very, very soon. If it’s not this weekend, it’s going to be soon after that. He’s come back refreshed and fully fit and desperate to enjoy his football once more.”
Lukaku, meanwhile, suggested that Everton would have liked him to play against Swansea.
The 20-year-old, a guest on Belgian television show “Reyers Laat” on Monday shortly before his return to England, said: “I don’t think I’ll be fit by then. I’m going back tomorrow [Tuesday] so they can check my ankle. If it’s not OK yet, I’ll come back and do some more work on it.”
Lukaku indicated that he should be fit in time for Belgium’s friendly against Ivory Coast on Mar. 5.
He said: “I think I’ll be able to play before that. The West Ham game on Mar. 1, probably.”
Lukaku said he had been inspired to improve his fitness further during his injury break by the longevity of centre-back Sylvain Distin, who recently signed a one-year contract extension to take him through to June 2015, when he will be 37.
The forward said: “I spend a lot more time at the gym. There’s this guy at the club, Sylvain Distin. He’s 36 and he’s among the best players every week.
“When he takes his shirt off in the dressing room, we’re all jealous. So you sort of try to emulate that. In the end, though, what matters is how you feel on the pitch and I feel good now.”