Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema has taken a significant step forward in his recovery from injury after completing part of a training session on Monday [15 January] for the first time since last month's 3-0 defeat to Barcelona.
It is still uncertain whether the Frenchman will be fully fit for the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarter-finals against Leganes on Thursday [18 January] but his return is a much-needed boost for Zinedine Zidane after his side suffered a new 1-0 defeat to Villarreal in La Liga.
The 30-year-old striker is yet to play a single minute in 2018 after picking up a thigh injury during El Clasico against Barcelona on 23 December.
Benzema came under criticism in the opening half of the season but Real have continued to struggle without his services during a disastrous start to the year.
Los Blancos began 2018 with a 3-0 win over second division side Numancia in the first leg of the Copa del Rey last 16 but they have since gone three games without a victory, drawing with Celta Vigo and Numancia before losing to Villarreal.
As a result, Real are already 19 points behind leaders Barcelona, just nine months after winning both the domestic title and the Champions League.
Los Blancos' crisis has coincided with fresh speculation in the Spanish press claiming that Cristiano Ronaldo wants to leave the Santiago Bernabeu and rejoin Manchester United after "feeling betrayed" by president Florentino Perez over broken promises of a pay rise.
But Zidane received some positive news from the Monday's workout with his first-choice number nine Benzema stepping up his recovery ahead of the upcoming Copa del Rey trip to Leganes.
The France striker could have a chance to be back in Zidane's squad for the cup clash but Sergio Ramos looks set to remain on the sidelines for at least one more game as the captain is yet to re-join the group.
"The squad held the first training session of the week and began preparing for the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarter-final against Leganés, which will take place this Thursday at Butarque (9:30pm CET). Llorente, who wasn't out on the field in the previous session, joined the group. Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema continue with their recovery processes. The Frenchman worked with his teammates in the first part of the session, while the captain trained out on the pitch with and without the ball," Real Madrid confirmed on the club's official website.
Los Blancos will visit their Madrid neighbours on Thursday before resuming their La Liga campaign with Sunday's trip to Deportivo la Coruna.