Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson has admitted that Ruben Loftus-Cheek's current injury is worse than first feared and may require surgery that could put his World Cup hopes at risk, although does not see any benefit in sending the midfielder back to parent club Chelsea.
Loftus-Cheek earned his first senior England caps in November after making an impressive start to his season-long loan spell at Selhurst Park, but has not featured since the 3-2 defeat by Arsenal on 28 December due to an ankle injury initially thought to be minor, missing the goalless draw with Manchester City and successive Premier League wins over Southampton and Burnley in addition to the FA Cup third-round loss against rivals Brighton & Hove Albion.
The 21-year-old was expected to remain in the treatment room for Saturday's (20 January) return fixture against the Gunners at the Emirates Stadium, but it now transpires that he could stay sidelined for several months.
"The injury is more severe than we first thought it would be. It is to do with the tendons at the back of his ankle," Hodgson told reporters at his pre-Arsenal press conference, per the Evening Standard.
He added that the issue had "not responded to the conservative treatment of rest that he has been having" and said that the medical team would continue along the same lines before reassessing in a few weeks' time, when it will be decided if a "stronger intervention" is required.
"It may," Hodgson replied when asked if the injury would need an operation to correct. "His treatment is being handled by doctors at the two clubs. They are liaising and making the decisions. We obviously misled you initially by saying all he needed was to miss a couple games and rest from training and he would be fine. That is what we honestly believed. But it has turned out not to be the case.
"We do not know how long it would take after the surgery to get him fit again. I would be disappointed, surgery or no surgery, if he is not playing before the end of the season. We certainly want him to be and I would presume Chelsea would want him to be because they would like to have a player who is going to be selected for England."
Palace might be tempted to prematurely terminate Loftus-Cheek's loan spell depending on the length of his lay-off, but that does not appear to be an option that Hodgson - targeting four new signings by the end of January to help the resurgent Eagles sustain their recent run of good form - is even considering at present.
"I wouldn't want to send him back particularly, it's still a long way to the end of the season," he was quoted as saying by Sky Sports. "It's obviously a longer injury than we were hoping it would be but there might be some very, very important games again this season when he might be fully fit and ready to play.
"I don't see any particular advantage in sending him back. There are not many Loftus-Cheeks out there at the moment at Premier League clubs who are ready to come out on loan."