Southampton team captain Virgil van Dijk is making good progress in his recovery from injury, although will not be available for either of the club's final two matches of the 2016-17 Premier League season against Manchester United and Stoke City.
Dutch international centre-back Van Dijk has missed almost four months of action due to a serious ankle injury sustained during January's 3-0 win over Leicester City and may well have played his last game for the mid-table Saints amid strong interest from the likes of champions Chelsea and Liverpool. However, manager Claude Puel recently expressed confidence that the 25-year-old would remain at St Mary's beyond the end of the summer.
Providing an update on the latest team news regarding Southampton ahead of the midweek visit of Jose Mourinho's Europa League finalists, Puel revealed that Van Dijk had now resumed running as he bids to return to full fitness in time for pre-season.
"We have no new injuries, but there was some good news this morning when I saw Virgil running on the pitch," he said. "He is not available, but it was his first run and it's a good thing, but he does not have the possibility to participate with the team until the end of the season."
Veteran journeyman Stuart Taylor and Mouez Hassen – a deadline day January signing from Puel's former club Nice – have provided the main back-up to first-choice goalkeeper Fraser Forster since deputy Alex McCarthy suffered a hamstring problem in the autumn. The latter is now back in training after being sidelined since October, although he and academy graduate midfielder Jake Hesketh also remain unavailable for selection.
"McCarthy comes back in the training sessions also and makes good progress," Puel added. "Again, he is not available, but is making progress. Hesketh is also not available, but that is all."
On top scorer Charlie Austin, who made his return after five months out with a dislocated shoulder with a brief second-half cameo in Saturday's 2-1 win at relegated Middlesbrough, he said: "We have different possibilities, and it's a good thing to see Charlie come back into the squad. Now he comes in with competition with other players like [Shane] Long, [Jay] Rodriguez, [Manolo] Gabbiadini.
"I hope he can play a little before the end of the season, of course. He needs to have rhythm and intensity after his five months out of the squad. It is normal, but he has good physical fitness and that is important for the team."
Puel's future has been subject to much speculation of late and highly-rated Hull City boss Marco Silva is said to be among the contenders for the Southampton hotseat despite failing to prevent the Tigers from making an immediate return to the Championship. The Frenchman, who only arrived on the south coast last summer, insists he is not thinking about those rumours as he focuses on sealing a top-half finish.
"The most important thing is to think about finishing strong in the Premier League," he said. "After that, I cannot make comments about speculation. I'm on contract, a three-year contract, with a project. I am happy here, with the directors, the staff and the players but the most important [is] to continue to improve.
"There's no need to give assurances because it matters about what is on the pitch with the quality. It's the second-youngest team in the table and we continue to improve for the future."