• The 26-year-old played his first match since January as Saints lost 4-0 to Aston Villa.
  • Van Dijk being reintegrated into the first-team after trying to force summer move to Anfield.

Southampton defender Virgil van Dijk took another step towards a return to the first-team following his failed attempts to join Liverpool during the summer, featuring for the Saints' Under-23 side on Monday (11 September).

Van Dijk returned to first-team training last week having been ordered to train on his own back in July by manager Mauricio Pellegrino. Pellergino decided to isolate the player following his decision to hand in a transfer request with Liverpool heavily linked with a £70m bid for the Netherlands international, only for the transfer window to close without an official offer coming in.

As he continues his preparations for a first-team recall, Van Dijk, who has not played since January when he suffered a serious ankle injury, played his first match of the season for the club's Under-23 side against their Aston Villa counterparts. But in his first outing in nine months, the former Celtic star appeared to be more than a little rusty, turning in an unconvincing performance as Radhi Jaidi's side were hammered 4-0.

Van Dijk will continue to train with the first-team this week but Saints boss Pellegrini has provided no indication as to whether the club captain will be in contention for the Premier League trip to Crystal Palace on Saturday [16 September].

Van Dijk made it clear during the summer he wanted Southampton to take up Liverpool's interest in his services, declaring in a statement: "I am incredibly ambitious and want to achieve as much as I possibly can to fulfil my potential in what is a very short career as a professional footballer. I want to play European football again and challenge for major honours and as such I would like Southampton to consider the interest in me from top clubs should it still exist."

Liverpool however were cautious in their interest after being forced to issue a humiliating public apology to Southampton in June after it emerged the club had made an illegal approach in their initial attempts to sign the player.

The Reds have been tipped to return with another offer for the player in January, however.

Virgil van Dijk
Despite his best efforts, van Dijk is still a Southampton player. Getty Images