Paul Pogba will again be absent when Manchester United take on AZ Alkmaar looking to top their Europa League group and build on the eye-catching victories against Tottenham and Manchester City.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men have secured their place in the round of 32 with two matches to spare and will win Group L if they avoid defeat to the in-form Dutch visitors.
Thursday’s Old Trafford encounter looked an opportune time to give minutes to Pogba, who has managed just six appearances since fuelling speculation about his future in the summer by admitting his openness to leave amid interest from Real Madrid.
Out since September due to an ankle injury, the World Cup winner returned to Manchester a fortnight ago after a period of rehabilitation in Miami but AZ’s visit comes too soon for the midfielder.
“No, it’s too early (for Thursday),” Solskjaer said. “Yeah, we hope (that he will be back in 2019). He’s working hard to get fit so hopefully we can get him back on the pitch.”
Asked if it is an automatic decision to put Pogba back in the starting line-up given the way Scott McTominay and Fred have kicked on, the United boss said: “Let’s get Paul fit first and then back in form and Paul will play loads of games.
“You know, for me, he’s one of the best players in the world and we’re looking forward to having him back.”
Pogba looks set to be joined on the sidelines by Jesse Lingard, who missed training on the eve of the match having picked up a knock against City.
The 26-year-old impressed in Saturday’s thrilling 2-1 win at the Etihad Stadium, which came just days after Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham were beaten by the same scoreline.
Those victories were a tantalising glimpse at what Solskjaer’s side are capable of, while it underlined the importance of consistency having drawn their previous two league matches against promoted sides Sheffield United and Aston Villa.
“Of course consistency is vital in football if you’re going to win trophies,” Solskjaer said. “And this young team, they need to learn how to put performances on when maybe they don’t feel like it, maybe don’t feel great.
“Because it doesn’t happen that you feel great every single time that you walk onto the pitch. We’ve had some games this year where we’ve not been able to perform as well as we’d like, but that’s a learning curve and with young boys I’m sure in the next couple of years they will improve that as well – and hopefully the rest of the season.
“Because we’ve come through a sticky patch with bad injuries and bad results, and we’re looking brighter now.”
Nemanja Matic is fit to face AZ on Thursday and Phil Jones will be available to feature for the first time since the draw at Sheffield United.
The match is likely to come too soon for Diogo Dalot, while Marcos Rojo, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Eric Bailly are also building fitness.