Virgil van Dijk is braced to make his first start for Southampton since failing to engineer a move away from the south coast in the summer transfer window. The Netherlands international began his reintegration last weekend with a three-minute cameo appearance at Crystal Palace but could appear from the start when Manchester United visit St Mary's on Saturday [23 September].
The 26-year-old made no secret of his desire to leave Saints this summer, submitting a transfer request and urging the club to consider offers from the Premier League's biggest clubs. No bids were submitted, but Liverpool were continually linked with a move for Van Dijk. Arsenal and Chelsea were also mentioned with an interest.
Uncertainty over his future had seen van Dijk forced to train with the club's Under-23 side, until he recently returned to work with the first team. He made his first outing for Southampton in the 1-0 win over Palace and could be deployed from the start when Jose Mourinho's United visit this weekend. Matt Targett meanwhile is a doubt with an ankle knock.
"We will decide tomorrow, but every single week Virgil is important because he is getting better," said manager Mauricio Pellegrino, according to The Daily Echo, in his pre-match press conference to preview the clash with United.
"After a long period of time without playing a game now he is training well, and it's good news for us because we need Virgil like every single player in our squad. Virgil is an important player for us. I think every single week he will improve, but at the same time he needs to play, he needs to train. The best training session for me is to play games. Now he is playing in the reserves and 15 minutes is something and he is training well."
The ex-Celtic centre-back received a mixed reception from supporters upon coming on late on in south London and it remains to be seen what the reaction will be when he makes his first start.
Van Dijk will be charged with leading a Southampton side which will come up against one of the most fearsome attacks in the country. United have plundered 24 goals in just eight games since the season began, including 11 in their last three games. Club captain Steven Davis admits Van Dijk will have to be at his best to justify his selection from the start.
"It's been a smooth transition," the Northern Ireland international admitted, according to The Mirror. "A lot more has been of it in the media than there has been here. But ultimately we're delighted that he's back in. He's determined to give his all and fight for his place. It's a great boost for us to be able to keep hold of him."