West Ham United midfielder Alex Song is targeting upcoming fixtures against Spurs and Manchester United as he bids to make his long-awaited return from injury. The 28-year-old, who spent the whole 2014/15 Premier League campaign at the Boleyn Ground before rejoining on another season-long loan on transfer deadline day, is yet to feature for Slaven Bilic this term after undergoing surgery to correct an ankle problem sustained over the summer.
After initially aiming to make his comeback in the fiery 2-1 win over Chelsea on 24 October, Song was not deemed fit enough to take part. However he is understood to have been back in first-team training for the past fortnight. The former Arsenal stalwart, a £15m ($22.8m) signing for Barcelona in August 2012 who has long since been deemed as surplus to requirements in La Liga, played his first game in six months with a 60-minute cameo in a behind-closed-doors friendly victory against Crystal Palace earlier this week, declaring himself pleased with his progress.
"I don't want to rush, which is why we've taken the time to come back step-by-step," he wrote in a blog featured on West Ham's official website. "On Wednesday I played 60 minutes, that's one step, and now I have a couple of weeks to try and build my fitness. I know it won't be easy because I've been out for a long time, but I need to come back to the game so I'm looking forward to it.
"On Wednesday we saw some players who needed some minutes, and some players like me who need to come back from injuries. That's what you need to build your fitness. I was happy with the way I played and the way I moved. I need some time to come back, but the way it went on Wednesday made me happy."
West Ham have enjoyed a positive start to life under Bilic, winning half of their 12 top-flight fixtures under the Croatian to date leaving them sixth in the table, only five points adrift of leaders Manchester City. The Hammers only trail London rivals Tottenham by virtue of a slightly inferior goal difference, although they will have a chance to remedy that when Mauricio Pochettino's side visit in the first fixture back after the international break. Matches against West Bromwich Albion and Manchester United follow that derby fixture and Song hopes to be back in the thick of the action as the busy festive schedule approaches.
He added: "I've been seeing the guys and they've been doing very well. I just wanted to come back to give my contribution, especially with some important games coming up. We play Tottenham and Man Utd in the next few weeks and I have to be ready. I'll work very hard in the next few weeks to be ready for those games."
In an update on West Ham's other pressing injury issues, head of medical and sports science Stijn Vandenbroucke has reiterated that star summer signing Dimitri Payet will be sidelined until at least February. The French international was substituted after 50 minutes of the 1-1 draw against Everton as he felt the effects of a scissor challenge from James McCarthy, suffering a high-ankle sprain that will require a second meeting with a specialist to determine if he needs to go under the knife.
Enner Valencia is also scheduled for further consultation on his own ankle injury picked up in that game, but the club are confident that Diafra Sakho will be able to return from a quadriceps issue for the visit of Spurs.