Southampton manager Mauricio Pellegrino is considering thrusting Virgil van Dijk into his starting line-up in an attempt to shackle free-scoring Manchester United tomorrow.
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 tomorrow in a bid to nullify a United side that has hit 16 goals in their opening five Premier League games.
“We’ll decide [today],” 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.”
The wantaway centre-back — who was linked with Liverpool and Chelsea before the closure of the transfer window — featured in another game for Saints’ U23 side this week.
Pellegrino said Van Dijk will continue to be available for second-string fixtures in order to regain fitness. “Some of them, yes,” he said. “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%.”
Saints sit ninth in the league following the win at struggling Palace. Their weekend opponents are joint top after an unbeaten start which has brought 13 points from a possible 15.
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.
“When we play against the biggest team in the world, it allows us to draw some conclusions about how we are.” he said. “This is for me the nice challenge and we have to strive for this.”
United’s Anthony Martial produced a man-of-the-match display in the 4-1 Carabao Cup win over Burton in midweek and teammate Jesse Lingard described him as a “force”.
Martial, 21, took his tally for this campaign to four goals — already halfway to last season’s total. Fellow goalscorer Lingard said: “When he is running at you, any defender is going to be put on the back foot. If he continues to do that throughout the season, he’ll be a force this season.”
Meanwhile, United have earned more than half a billion pounds for the second successive year, with a record-breaking revenue of £581.2m (€661m). Revenue rose from £515.3m to £581.2m for the year ending June 30.
The club — who in January returned to the top of the Deloitte Football Money League for the first time since 2005 — achieved a record operating profit of £80.8m and record earnings of £199.8m before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortisation.
United are expecting to post a revenue of £575m-£585m for the year ending June 30, 2018.
The accounts show wages rose by £31.3m to £263.5m as Mourinho’s appointment was followed by the arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba, Eric Bailly, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. In terms of percentage of revenue, it broadly remains the same.
Retail revenue increased by £6.7m thanks in part to the fact the full year of their agreement with Adidas came into account along with growth in the Megastore.
United’s net debt decreased by £47.8m to £213.1m.
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