Wayne Rooney will return to the Manchester United side to take on Southampton on Monday, but manager Louis van Gaal explained that Radamel Falcao was again only fit enough for a place on the bench. Rooney has recovered from a knee injury suffered against Hull City just over a week ago, with Van Gaal confirming that his captain “will play” at St Mary’s. Falcao, though, who returned from a month out with cameo appearances in wins over Hull and Stoke City, will have to continue to make do with a place among the substitutes.
“Falcao needs match fitness,” Van Gaal said, reports Sky Sports. “He can only play for 20 minutes I have selected him despite that but the rhythm of the game in the Premier League is the highest.
“It would be a better contribution if he played with the second team [reserves] but I cannot do that because on Tuesday, Rooney was injured for the match against Stoke. I had to adapt to the needs of selection. I am not interested whether he is unhappy being on the bench. He has to follow my philosophy. I am here because of that.”
Since joining on loan from Monaco on Sept. 1, Falcao has started just three times, scoring once. His team, however, has fared much better in recent weeks. Manchester United are on a four-game winning run and should they claim a fifth on Monday evening they will climb above fourth-placed Southampton as well as leapfrogging West Ham in third. The massive injury problems that have blighted the start of Van Gaal’s reign are also beginning to ease. As well as Rooney, Rafael is back in training, and fellow-defender Phil Jones is due to follow suit next week. Monday’s match is set to come too soon for both, as it will for former Southampton left-back Luke Shaw. Record signing Angel di Maria also remains sidelined, as does Danny Blind.
Van Gaal will be coming up against a man he knows well at St Mary’s in Southampton coach Ronald Koeman. Koeman was Van Gaal’s assistant coach at Barcelona but the pair had a highly publicized falling out in 2004 when they were coach and technical director, respectively, at Ajax. In the buildup to their reunion, both men tried to suggest that there was no longer any ill-feeling, yet also made it clear that they wouldn’t be going out for dinner anytime soon and would far rather discuss on-the-pitch matters.
In that department, Koeman could hardly have dreamt of a better start to his time in charge of Southampton after leaving Feyenoord in the summer. Despite losing a host of top players, including Shaw, Koeman has got the club riding high in the Champions League places. But a tough run of fixtures has seen back-to-back defeats to Manchester City and Arsenal, while the club has been struck with a rash of ill-timed injuries.
With Morgan Scheneiderlin already being struck down against City, Toby Alderweireld, Jack Cork and Dusan Tadic were all forced off in the 1-0 loss at Arsenal. Midfielders Schneiderlin and Cork are expected to be missing again on Monday, with Alderweireld set to face a late fitness test. There is some good news, with Tadic, who has contributed six assists in the Premier League since his summer arrival, having recovered.
Prediction: A trip to St Mary’s promises to be a tough assignment, but it is significantly less daunting than it would have been a few weeks ago. The goals of striker Graziano Pelle, which were so key to Southampton’s early form, have dried up, while injuries in the center of midfield and defense could expose the lack of depth in Koeman’s squad. Certainly the absence of anchorman Schneiderlin is significant. Meanwhile, United are, if still not wholly convincing, showing real resolve and an eagerness to take on board Van Gaal’s instructions.Although it likely won’t be straightforward, United should just continue their winning run.
Southampton 0-1 Manchester United
Kickoff time: 3 p.m. EST
TV channel: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra