Christian Eriksen looks set to make an early comeback from an ankle injury after Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag revealed the midfielder is back in team training from Tuesday.
The 31-year-old has established himself as a key player since moving to Old Trafford in the summer on a free transfer following a successful short-term stint at Wednesday’s opponents Brentford.
Eriksen made 31 appearances and was a near ever-present before being sidelined by a poor challenge by Andy Carroll in January’s FA Cup fourth-round tie against Reading.
United expected to be without the Denmark international until late April or early May, leading them to make a deadline-day loan move for Bayern Munich midfielder Marcel Sabitzer.
But Eriksen has made impressive progress and is shaping up to return to action ahead of schedule.
“Not (available) for (Wednesday) but he’s returning on the pitch,” United boss Ten Hag said.
“He’s returning into team training (on Tuesday), so we have to see how quick he can now make the progress.”
Eriksen’s absence has been keenly felt, as has that of fellow summer signing Casemiro, who serves the third match of a four-game ban when Brentford visit on Wednesday.
“Two quality players,” Ten Hag said. “You know, the midfield department, games will be decided always in the midfield.
“So, when you miss two quality players, it’s clear but you have a squad and when you don’t have them you still have to win.”
United’s midfield was found wanting on Sunday at St James’ Park, where Newcastle capitalised on a meek team display to secure a deserved 2-0 victory.
Luke Shaw labelled the performance “unacceptable” and Ten Hag agreed with the left-back that the Magpies were “more determined, more passionate” and had “more desire”.
“We had a very bad performance because the opponent wanted it more than we,” the Dutchman said. “They were sharper.
“You can see that in the challenges – we won only 16 from 61 challenges in offence and in defence the opponent beats us 48 from 78 challenges. Then you can’t win a game.”
United have only won three of their last nine Premier League matches and have slipped to fifth, following the loss at Newcastle and Tottenham picking up a point at Everton on Monday.
They have not won a top-flight fixture since beating Eddie Howe’s Magpies to lift the Carabao Cup in late February, but Ten Hag downplayed talk of his side dealing with a post-Wembley hangover.
“We played 60 minutes against Southampton with 10 men,” he said. “We beat Fulham (in the FA Cup) – that’s a Premier League opponent.
“We beat Newcastle in the Carabao Cup, it’s a Premier League opponent, so no concern. We know we can beat Premier League teams.”
United will look to get back to winning ways in the league on Wednesday against Brentford, who stunned them 4-0 in August’s reverse fixture in what was Ten Hag’s second match in charge.
Shaw was dropped for a period after that loss but has grown into a vital player under Ten Hag, with the left-back rewarded with a new four-year deal on Tuesday.
“I think it’s a good message (that he’s here for his peak years),” the United boss said of the 27-year-old defender.
“An England international, he’s doing really well this season, really happy with him.
“I think he’s a modern left full-back but can also play other positions like left centre-back.
“He matches absolutely the standards we want to have, so a very good message.”