Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has hinted that fit-again striker Radamel Falcao could be forced to play in the reserves in order to aid his recovery back to 100 per cent match fitness.
The Colombia international returned to first-team action as a late second-half substitute during Saturday's convincing 3-0 victory over Hull City at Old Trafford, and is expected to be in the squad again when the resurgent Red Devils host Stoke City in tomorrow's midweek encounter during a busy week of Premier League fixtures.
Falcao had been tipped to return to the starting XI in place of the under-performing Robin van Persie, but judging by Van Gaal's latest comments the summer signing from AS Monaco might have to settle for a run-out in the second string instead.
"You have to have professional league fitness," explained the Dutch coach, with quotes carried by the Sunday People. "You have to be fit.
"That's why players have to play in the second team - even players like Falcao, in spite of his name."
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Van Gaal's stance might come as a surprise to some Manchester United supporters who are desperate to see the £265,000-a-week star back fit and firing following a disappointing start to his Premier League career.
Falcao's season-long loan stint in England has begun so unsuccessfully that there's already been talk of the club rejecting their option to sign the striker permanently next summer, but it's more likely that the South American marksman will be given more time to prove himself once back in peak condition.
"Fitness is the most important thing," added the former Netherlands boss. "First you have to show your fitness. Not just for one day but for several weeks."
Return to form
The 28-year-old has made just six senior appearances for the Red Devils in what has been a stop-start introduction to the Premier League, with a modest return of one solitary goal.
However, after establishing himself as one of the most prolific talisman in all of Europe during previous spells with FC Porto, Atletico Madrid and Monaco, Manchester United fans will be optimistic that the best is still yet to come.
Despite Falcao's recent absence, Van Gaal's side have enjoyed a significant upturn in form with just one defeat in their previous eight Premier League games. Saturday's impressive result represented a third consecutive victory since losing 1-0 against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on November 2.
The rejuvenated Red Devils are now up to a respectable fourth place in the table, and although they are still 11 points behind runaway leaders Chelsea after just 13 games, they at least look back on course to challenge for Champions League qualification next season.