Nemanja Matic is set to play for Manchester United against AZ in the Europa League on Thursday but Paul Pogba is not yet ready to return, according to manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Matic, 31, has been sidelined with injury since a 0-0 draw with the Eredivisie side back in October.
The former Chelsea midfielder has been tipped to leave United in January, having found his place in Solskjaer’s first-team plans come under threat during the opening weeks of the season, with Serie A clubs including Milan and Inter said to be interested.
Matic is due to be given a chance to impress at Old Trafford, though, as United go in search of the draw they need to secure their place as winners of Group L.
“He’s fit,” Solskjaer said on Wednesday. “He’s due to be involved.”
Solskjaer also confirmed “it’s a bit early” for Diogo Dalot to return, the full-back having only this week resumed training, while midfielder Pogba is still not ready to play following a troublesome ankle injury.
“It’s too early,” Solskjaer said of Pogba. “We hope so [that he will return in 2019]. He’s working hard to get fit so hopefully we can get him back on the pitch.
“Let’s get Paul fit first and then back in form and he’ll play loads of games. He’s one of the best players in the world and we’re looking forward to having him back.”
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In the absence of Pogba and Matic, Fred has begun to cement his place at the heart of the midfield, the Brazil international producing arguably his best performances for the club in the past week in the 2-1 Premier League wins over Tottenham and Manchester City.
“Fred’s had the confidence of the coaching staff and me and the players all the time,” said Solskjaer. “This form is down to him because he’s been working really hard. When he got the chance with Paul injured he grabbed it with both feet and we’re really happy to see him perform at this level.”
Those two wins over some of United’s biggest rivals have eased the pressure on Solskjaer, which had been growing due to his team’s frustrating lack of consistency.
Solskjaer, though, insists the belief in his plans to rebuild the team has never wavered, while he felt the decision to take largely a team of youngsters to Astana two weeks ago paid off thanks to the Spurs and City results.
“Inside [the club], we’ve always had belief in what we’re doing. It might change on the outside but it’s results, you can’t change that,” Solskjaer said. “It’s the nature of football. Sometimes, you’ve got the margins on your side.
“I think the decision we made to send the young players to Astana made sure the players who stayed here were more ready because it was a hard week.
“Results are always the proof in the end, but we’ve always believed in what we’re doing it. It’s going to be ups and downs, but we’re on the right track. I see these boys every day in training, the attitude and skills they have got, so I’m not that worried.”
United have already qualified for the knockout phase and need only a point to guarantee top spot in the group, but Solskjaer insisted he wants to beat AZ.
“Of course I’m bothered [about the result],” he added. “I’m not going to send the boys out and say, ‘I don’t care if you win or lose’.
“Every game you play for Man United is a chance to prove yourself and to me and the supporters that you deserve to be part of the team for a long time.”
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