Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini has been ruled out of Saturday’s Premier League fixture against Aston Villa through illness.
The Belgium international, who has established himself as a first-choice midfielder under Louis van Gaal, is one of six Red Devils’ stars unavailable for selection ahead of this weekend’s clash at Villa Park.
Five others are injured - including the likes of Chris Smalling, Luke Shaw and Daley Blind - leaving 22 players in contention to make Manchester United’s next match day squad.
Ander Herrera to start
Spanish midfielder Ander Herrera is expected to start in place of Fellaini, who should be back for United’s Boxing Day fixture against Newcastle United.
Herrera, a £29 million summer signing from Athletic Bilbao, has only started six Premier League matches all season - but Saturday’s match will be an opportunity to prove to Van Gaal that he deserves a regular place in United’s starting line-up.
Fellaini’s future at Old Trafford was reportedly in serious doubt following Manchester United’s decision to sack David Moyes, the man who brought the powerful Belgian to Old Trafford in the summer of 2013, back in April.
However, Van Gaal offered the much-maligned midfielder a chance to prove his worth - and he’s taken that opportunity with both hands in recent months.
Fellaini came on for Herrera as a second-half substitute during October’s 2-2 draw against West Brom and scored a wonderful goal - his first for the Red Devils - before a sustained run in the first team.
He has since started - and played 90 minutes - in every one of United’s Premier League matches.
The jury is still out on Fellaini as a Manchester United player, but the 27-year-old’s aerial prowess makes him a useful option for Van Gaal, who has helped the player rediscover his confidence following his big-money move from Everton and subsequent difficult first season at Old Trafford.
Although the technical side of his game might not be up to par with some of his teammates, few players in the Premier League are more dangerous at set pieces.
United in top form
Manchester United, in Fellaini’s absence, are hoping to record their seventh consecutive Premier League victory this weekend.
Another win will temporarily leave the third-placed Red Devils five points behind league-leaders Chelsea, who face a difficult fixture against Stoke City on Monday night.
Second-placed Manchester City, meanwhile, host Crystal Palace on Saturday lunchtime.