Tottenham Hotspur will now be without the services of key defender Toby Alderweireld until February 2018, manager Mauricio Pochettino has confirmed.
The Belgian centre-back has not featured for Spurs since suffering a hamstring injury during the early stages of a memorable Champions League win over Real Madrid at Wembley Stadium on 1 November. The problem was discovered to be worse than initially feared and he was expected to be sidelined until after Christmas.
Alderweireld refused to pinpoint a specific return date, however, saying it was "dangerous to make it worse" and revealing that he was set to undergo a further scan to determine the pace of his recovery.
The results of that scan now appear to have delayed his comeback by at least another month, with the 28-year-old now set to remain out for January matches against Swansea City, West Ham United, AFC Wimbledon, Everton, Southampton and Manchester United as well as remaining December clashes with Brighton & Hove Albion, Manchester City, Burnley and the aforementioned Saints.
Tottenham will be desperate to see Alderweireld quickly hit the ground running in February, when an opening trip to Liverpool is followed by London derbies against Arsenal and Crystal Palace and the away leg of their Champions League last-16 tie against Serie A giants Juventus in Turin.
"Of course we cannot change the reality of his injury, he cannot play until February," Pochettino confirmed during his pre-Brighton press conference on Tuesday (12 December), per football.london.
Defending Spurs' ability to cope in the prolonged absence of such an influential player, he added: "With him or without him we win and lose. Of course the manager wants everyone fit to play, all the players. You are always going to miss players, but it's collective."
While Alderweireld will remain in the treatment room for some time, fellow long-term absentee Victor Wanyama - limited to just two August appearances in 2017-18 thanks to a lingering knee issue - is closing in on a return to action. The Kenyan midfielder joined in with the warm-up in training on Monday, although is not in contention for the visit of Brighton.
Davinson Sanchez is similarly unavailable for selection against a Seagulls side managed by former Tottenham stalwart Chris Hughton, with the Colombian defender poised to serve the second game of a three-match suspension handed down following his red card for elbowing Richarlison in the 1-1 draw at Watford. He also missed Saturday's demolition of Stoke City that ended a run of four league matches without a win.
Pochettino is considering handing Erik Lamela his first start for 417 days against Brighton. The Argentine winger, who has been back training for some time after undergoing surgery on both hips, has now made three consecutive substitute cameos in the Premier League after ending his 13-month injury nightmare in the defeat to Leicester City a fortnight ago.
"Maybe, maybe," Pochettino replied when asked if his compatriot, by his own admission still not 100% fit, could feature from the first whistle on Wednesday evening. "I still haven't decided. I will decide today for tomorrow. Yes he has a chance to play from the start tomorrow."