Southampton manager Mauricio Pellegrino is considering thrusting Virgil van Dijk into his starting line-up in an attempt to shackle free-scoring Manchester United.
Holland defender Van Dijk has not started a game for eight months after suffering a serious foot injury in January and then handing in a transfer request during the summer.
The 26-year-old made his first-team return as a substitute in the 1-0 victory at Crystal Palace last weekend and could now be called upon on Saturday to help nullify a United side which has hit 16 goals in their opening five Premier League games.“We’ll decide tomorrow (Friday),” said Pellegrino when asked if Van Dijk will line-up against Jose Mourinho’s men. “But every single week, Virgil is important because he is getting better.
“After a long period of time without playing a game, now he is training well again and it’s good news for us because we need Virgil, like every single player in our squad.
“I think every single week he will improve but at the same time he needs to train, he needs to play because the best training session for me is to play games.”
Wantaway centre-back Van Dijk – who was linked with Liverpool and Chelsea before the closure of the transfer window – featured in another game for Saints’ Under-23 side this week.
His manager said the former Celtic player will continue to be available for second-string fixtures in order to regain fitness.
“Some of them, yes,” Pellegrino added. “I would like to introduce him little by little. The other day he played 50 minutes, but it is something.
“I was watching the video of the game and all of the senior players were really well, and it’s an opportunity to be there on the pitch and be physically fit 100 per cent.”
Saints sit ninth in the early-season table following the win at struggling Palace. Their weekend opponents are second after an unbeaten start which has brought 13 points from a possible 15.
Former Liverpool defender Pellegrino described United as the “biggest team in the world” and believes they will provide the sternest test of his short tenure at St Mary’s.
“For me it’s a nice opportunity, I see this game as a huge opportunity for us because we realise how we are against a top team,” the 45-year-old Argentinian said.
“When we play against the biggest team in the world, it allows us to draw some conclusions about how we are. This is for me the nice challenge and we have to strive for this.
“Playing against Manchester United is one of the most beautiful things. I will live this opportunity, I will live this game, and now we have to try to enjoy this game.”