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Van Dijk returns to Southampton training but Pellegrino remains cautious

Virgil van Dijk has returned to first-team training with Southampton, but coach Mauricio Pellegrino is unsure when he will be ready to return.

The centre-back, who has not featured since January due to an ankle injury, was left out of a pre-season trip to France and handed in a transfer request in August in an attempt to force an exit from St Mary's.

Van Dijk had been training apart from the group and was overlooked for Southampton's opening three Premier League games and the EFL Cup clash with Wolves.

Pellegrino confirmed he is back among the first-team, but suggested the 26-year-old will need patience given the amount of time he has spent out of competitive action.

"Now he is training with the team again," said Pellegrino at a media conference ahead of Saturday's home match against Watford.

"It depends on the player [when he returns]. We know that he's coming from a long period of time without playing a game and he needs to train and to play games.

"You have to show on the pitch how you are. Now everything is normal, this is good news for us."

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Saints chairman Ralph Krueger insisted Van Dijk was not for sale in the final weeks of the transfer window, and Pellegrino appreciated the strong stance.

He said: "The message is that in this moment we don't need to sell players and we need to keep our best players to be more competitive - it's the message from the owners, the board, our chairman, our director and it's really good.

"We are now in a difficult moment to make a small step. To achieve this step we have to keep our best players, to work with them, to be a team, and now to build a team."