Mauricio Pochettino says that Christopher Nkunku is in “good condition” but still not ready to make his Chelsea debut.
The French forward was pictured in team training on Wednesday but is yet to make a first competitive appearance after his £52million summer move from RB Leipzig.
Nkunku has been out for nearly four months after tearing his meniscus against Borussia Dortmund in the final match of Chelsea’s pre-season tour of the United States in Chicago in August.
Pochettino couldn’t hide his excitement about Nkunku’s looming return, but said he would not feature against Newcastle at St James’ Park on Saturday.
“Nkunku is a bit ahead of [Romeo] Lavia,” the Argentine said. “He was doing things with the group in the last week but still not fully recovered to be part of the squad.”
Christopher Nkunku made a promising start to life at Chelsea during pre-season (Getty Images)
The Blues boss added: “He is a fantastic player who was the top scorer in the Bundesliga last season, and he can play in different positions. His quality is amazing. He is an experienced player.
“It’s really bad luck to lose him from the beginning of the season and to not have him to help the team.”
Pochettino doesn’t immediately expect Nkunku to be back at his best level.
His return will initially come from the bench in a similar process that has seen captain Reece James return in two substitute appearances before starting the next three matches.
“Step by step, we will find the best way to fit him in the team,” Pochettino added.
“Now he is going to find massive competition. He needs to build form and his best level again and compete with players who have a big advantage over him.
“He needs time, we need to be patient with him. He needs to not only recover from his injury but to know the league, the atmosphere and the culture.”
Pochettino said James could get his first full 90 minutes since April against Newcastle, with Levi Colwill also passed fit after recovering from a shoulder injury which kept him out of England duty.
Moises Caicedo is a slight doubt having only returned from Ecuador on Friday, and could possibly be on the bench on Tyneside.
Pochettino also spoke about Cole Palmer’s recent success but hopes to keep him grounded, adding: “It’s our responsibility to push him outside his comfort zone every day so he can keep improving.”