West Ham have been handed an injury boost after Slaven Bilic revealed Dimitri Payet is set to make his first-team return against Liverpool on January 2.
Payet, who scored five goals in his impressive start to life in the Barclays Premier League, was expected to be out until February after he sustained an ankle injury following a tackle by James McCarthy in West Ham's 1-1 draw at Everton last month.
But Bilic, speaking ahead of his side's Boxing Day clash against Aston Villa, says the France international will return to training in the coming days, and could feature when Liverpool travel to Upton Park in the New Year.
"It is good news with Dimitri as he is ahead of schedule, so he should train with us after the Villa game or the Southampton game," Bilic said.
"He is training with the fitness coaches and he might be involved in the Liverpool game which is a big boost.
"At the beginning we thought he would be back in February but he is way ahead of schedule and it is not that bad. His ankle is very good - it is stable - so it is great news if it goes like this."
West Ham have drawn a blank in their last three outings, and last tasted victory in their 2-1 defeat of Chelsea on October 24.
Their trip to Villa, who have accumulated only seven points this season, would appear to resemble a good opportunity for Bilic's side to get their campaign back on track. But the former Croatia manager is not taking anything for granted.
"I saw their last few games and against Newcastle they had a really good game, especially after they equalised," said Bilic of Villa's 1-1 draw at St James' Park.
"For 20 minutes they were much better and I have seen the energy, seen their quality and they are fighting for their lives
"But they have confidence now because they have one point from an away game. They are at home against us and they look forward to that game.
"So, make no mistake I am not expecting anything easier than against Swansea, Stoke or Manchester United. They have some quality players who can harm you."
West Ham's trip to Villa could come too soon for playmaker Manuel Lanzini, who has been sidelined for one month with a thigh injury, b ut striker Andy Carroll could be available.
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