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West Ham United could be forced into the January transfer market after Angelo Ogbonna suffered a serious knee injury.
Fears are growing that the Hammers defender could miss the rest of the season with ligament damage to his right knee.
The 33-year-old, who has started every Premier League match of the season so far, came off injured in Sunday's 3-2 win over Liverpool.
And a scan on Monday revealed damage to his anterior cruciate ligament which may require surgery.
That could sideline the Italian centre-back for up to nine months in a major blow to the club's top-four ambitions.
Both Craig Dawson and Issa Diop can come in to partner Kurt Zouma at the back, but Hammers boss David Moyes will want cover if his worst fears are realised.
West Ham Head of Medical Richard Collinge said: "After being substituted following a separate incident that led to him suffering a cut above his eye, Angelo felt some discomfort in his right knee so we scanned him to ascertain the extent of the injury.
"That scan has shown up some damage to the anterior cruciate ligament and we have begun his rehabilitation immediately.
"Angelo will see another specialist this week and we will then have a clearer picture around his timeline of recovery."
Ogbonna tweeted a message to Hammers fans, saying: “ Unfortunately my knee forces me to take a break and return asap to fight with you.
“Of course I am devastated I can't continue our battle from the field, but, as a fighter, I’ll be back and till my return I’ll be supporting the team in this truly special year. See you soon guys.”
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Declan Rice can also play at centre-back if required, but the England star has become so important in midfield that Moyes would be reluctant to play him there.
West Ham are still looking for a striker to back up Michail Antonio but may now be forced to spend their money elsewhere.
The Hammers are riding high in third place in the Premier League, are undefeated in the Europa League, and face Tottenham Hotspur in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals next month.
Ogbonna leads all West Ham defenders in aerial battles won and interceptions so far this season and has formed a reliable partnership with Zouma.
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