Luke Shaw could play again for Manchester United this season after being told he will be ready to return to training next month – seven months after suffering a double fracture of his right leg.
The 20-year-old has impressed medical staff at United with the progress he has made since sustaining the injury during the 2-1 Champions League defeat to PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands on 15 September.
While manager Louis van Gaal is keen to be cautious with Shaw in order to ensure that the England left-back only returns to action when he is fully fit, the former Southampton player is confident he could play again before the end of this campaign if he emerges unscathed from his return to training next month.
It is unlikely, however, that Shaw would be regarded as fit enough to be named in England’s Euro 2016 squad due to the lack of games played by the youngster this season.
Although United’s Premier League campaign ends on 15 May, the club could extend their season by reaching either the Europa League final – in Basel on 18 May – or FA Cup final at Wembley three days later.
With Shaw targeting April for a return to training, a first-team comeback in May would open up the possibility of a Cup final appearance and hand him a head start in terms of fitness for next season.
In Shaw’s absence, Van Gaal has been forced to play no fewer than six replacements at left-back, including youngsters Joe Riley and Timothy Fosu-Mensah, in order to plug the gap left by the £28m defender.
After enduring an injury-hit first season at Old Trafford last year, Shaw returned to action last summer having lost weight and regained sharpness.
The injury suffered in Eindhoven, following a challenge by defender Hector Moreno, appeared almost certain to rule Shaw out of the remainder of this season, but there is now optimism that he will be able to return to the first-team at least once before the campaign is finished.
Meanwhile, Juan Mata has taken responsibility for the red card on Sunday that saw United reduced to 10 men and slide to a 1-0 defeat at West Bromwich Albion.
The Spanish midfielder was dismissed for the first time in his career after receiving two yellow cards in the space of two minutes and, although he will be free to face Liverpool in Thursday’s Europa League last 16, first-leg tie at Anfield, he claimed in his personal blog that the decision had left him “hurt”.
Mata wrote: “I take responsibility in the good and the bad moments. After almost 500 games as a professional player, this Sunday I was sent off for the first time in my career.
“The truth is this is a new and strange situation for me, but we learn from everything. I know that we see things like these every week, but obviously what hurts more is that my team-mates had to fight with ten men for a long time.
“I have the feeling that both decisions were rigorous; that, in many occasions, we see more serious fouls that are not penalised in such a way, but at the same time I could have avoided them and I take responsibility.”