Jose Mourinho does not expect to have Zlatan Ibrahimovic back in the fold over the next few weeks, although has a "feeling" that the veteran striker will return to action for Manchester United before the New Year.
Ibrahimovic was released at the end of his one-year contract over the summer after sustaining significant knee ligament damage during a Europa League quarter-final tie against Anderlecht in April, but was later re-signed on another 12-month deal after continuing to use the club's facilities to aid his rehabilitation.
The former Sweden captain was initially expected to be sidelined for approximately nine months following surgery in the United States and there have since been numerous conflicting reports over a potential return date, particularly with such a recovery seemingly progressing quicker than expected.
The Sun claimed earlier this week that Ibrahimovic has been joining in with training sessions over the past seven days after being slowly reintegrated into the main group, further raising hopes that he could be back in a red shirt sooner rather than later.
Providing a fresh update on the situation during a press conference held before Saturday's (21 October) Premier League trip to Huddersfield Town, Mourinho confirmed that the 36-year-old was indeed working tirelessly at United's Carrington training base and claimed to have a hunch that he will return to the pitch before the end of December.
However, any suggestions that he might be back in contention as soon as this month are evidently well wide of the mark.
"Zlatan is here," Mourinho told reporters. "He's working here and under our control.
"He's working as you would expect - so, so, so hard. But he's not going to be back in the next week or the next couple of weeks. Let him take his time and be back when everybody feels is the right moment. Do I believe he'll be back in 2017? Yes, I do. But it's just a feeling."
Mourinho revealed that he has the same pool of available players to pick from this weekend as he did for Wednesday night's Champions League win over Benfica, meaning that Phil Jones and Marcus Rashford will both be fit to feature.
The former was left as an unused substitute in Lisbon after suffering a knock during the international break, while the latter limped off with a knee problem late in the second half after seeing his speculative 35-yard free-kick inadvertently carried over the goal-line by young goalkeeper Mile Svilar.
Eric Bailly, Marcos Rojo, Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick all remain sidelined, while Mourinho appears no closer to discovering when Paul Pogba is likely to recover from a long-term hamstring issue. On Luke Shaw, he simply said that the out-of-favour left-back was"working" after travelling but not making the matchday squad against Benfica.
"Paul is not here, I don't know when he comes back," Mourinho added. "I don't know when he's available."
On United's general injury situation, he said: "The injury process normally is a process of some guys get injured, some guys recover from injury, unless we lose completely the balance, this happens to almost every team. Unless a team has a phenomenal season where everything goes well and not even a broken nail happens to a player. [Soon], Zlatan, Marcos [Rojo], Pogba and Fellaini will be back and somebody [else] will get injured and I think that's a normal process."