Smalling had to be substituted during England’s friendly against Italy this week with what was suspected concussion. Although the FA and Roy Hodgson said he had to be taken off with illness, Louis van Gaal has confirmed he is a doubt for the Villa game.
Van Gaal also revealed van Persie and Shaw are close to full fitness and the return of both would be a real boost to the strength of United’s squad for the last eight games of the season.
“There is only Smalling, who is ill,” van Gaal said.
“He is still ill so I have to wait and see if he can train today [Friday] – it is very close to the game.
“Robin is coming back on the [training] pitch and Luke Shaw has already had a week on there, but match rhythm is very important. You cannot compare a player who has been out for four or five weeks to those that have sufficient match rhythm.”
Van Persie has had an extremely indifferent season thanks to a series of injuries and was never able to find his best form, so there are no guarantees he’d come back into the starting XI when fit, especially if van Gaal continues to play just one striker as Wayne Rooney will continue to be first choice.
That being said, a fully fit and firing ban Persie is a dangerous asset, so here’s hoping he can re-find some sort of form in the latter stages of the year.
As for Shaw, like van Persie he has endured a tough season with a succession of different injuries and will be frustrated with how his first year has gone but time is on his side as he is only 19.
With Daley Blind slotting in well at left-back, there is no rush for Shaw to get back into the starting XI so he can simply concentrate on making sure he works his way back to full fitness without being brought back into the team too quickly.
Neither player will walk straight back into van Gaal’s first choice team but there will no doubt be further unexpected injuries between now and the end of the season, so having both players available would be a good safety net.