Mauricio Pellegrino says he is happy with Virgil van Dijk’s attitude but has called for patience ahead of the Southampton defender’s return.
Van Dijk was the subject of interest from Liverpool in the recent transfer window, although they gave up their attempts to sign him after being accused of making an illegal approach.
The Netherlands international handed in a transfer request but was not able to force through a move and made his Saints return as a late substitute against Crystal Palace.
Van Dijk sat out the 1-0 loss to Manchester United last week, though, and Saints boss Pellegrino is wary of rushing him back.
“The only thing that Virgil needs – and the most important thing – is to play games,” he told a pre-match news conference ahead of facing Stoke City. “But we are in the moment that, when we decide, Virgil has to be ready.
“It will be difficult to see the best version of first game as he needs time. Little by little, he’s getting better.
“Every week, his timing is much better, his mobility is much better, his understanding is much better, he is physically fit, he is fresher – obviously, every single week, he will improve.
“We need to be patient. After this game we’ve got two weeks and we’ll play a friendly in the middle. I’m happy with his attitude and I’m sure he’ll be ready when he does come back.”
Pellegrino confirmed that Van Dijk would reprise his role as captain if he shows his commitment to the side.
“Virgil is still one of our captains,” he added. “I’m not thinking about [changing] this.
“But, being captain, for me it’s not a position, it’s a decision. If you want to be captain, you have to deserve it.”