Manchester United's hopes of pursuing a big-money deal for Gareth Bale look to be all but over after the Welsh international was named by Zinedine Zidane in the Real Madrid starting lineup for Tuesday night's (8 August) Uefa Super Cup clash in sweltering Skopje.
United are known to hold a long-term interest in Bale and Jose Mourinho set tongues wagging at his pre-match press conference yesterday by suggesting that his inclusion in Zidane's XI would be a clear sign that he was still wanted by the reigning European and Spanish champions.
In the event that Bale was omitted from the Los Blancos team to face his Europa League winners at the National Arena Philip II, however, the Red Devils boss said he would be "waiting for him on the other side" and would "fight with other coaches that would want him on their team".
Bale, who endured an injury-plagued 2016-17 campaign and has seen his popularity among Real supporters decline sharply, features alongside Isco and Karim Benzema as Cristiano Ronaldo is only deemed fit enough for the bench following his recent return to training.
All apart from Bale started in May's Champions League final drubbing of Juventus, while six members of United's initial team - captain Antonio Valencia, Chris Smalling, Matteo Darmian, Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan - began that routine 2-0 victory over Ajax in Stockholm.
Mourinho's trio of summer signings, Victor Lindelof, Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic, are all handed their competitive debuts in Macedonia. As expected, long-term absentees Luke Shaw (ankle), Marcos Rojo (knee) and Ashley Young (groin) remain sidelined.
"We have lost players through suspension in Phil Jones and Eric Bailly and have Marcos Rojo injured so Victor goes. Victor is a good player," Mourinho said of his decision to start Lindelof.
"Sure, this is where the proper business begins. Usually we would say it is next week but this is an amazing chance against champions of Europe. Tonight we go for it."
Theo Hernandez is listed as a substitute for Real, although fellow new recruit Dani Ceballos is not involved.