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No early return for Ribéry

Van Gaal assessing playmaker candidates

On Monday, Franck Ribéry was still unable to practise with his favourite item of sports equipment, the football. The France superstar joined Luca Toni for a gruelling fitness session featuring sprint after sprint and lap after lap of the training ground – all without another team-mate or ball in sight.

In all likelihood, the midfielder and his Italian partner will spend the rest of the week completing similar exercises and conditioning routines. The pair will then resume the squad programme, but only on a step-by-step basis. Ribéry and Toni will therefore play no active part in the first competitive game of the new campaign, next Sunday's DFB Cup first round tie away to Neckarelz.

Ribery making progress

In Toni's case - the 2006 World Cup winner has been hampered by an Achilles problem ever since returning to the club two weeks ago - coach Louis van Gaal has replacements at the ready. Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez rate as top-rate strikers, but the loss of Ribéry is a much more acute issue for the 57-year-old boss.

Van Gaal has always had Ribery pencilled in for a playmaking role behind the front two: "Ribéry is the man I want as my number 10." However, the Frenchman has yet to appear in a pre-season friendly. "Franck has come a long way since last week, but there's still a long way to go," Van Gaal told reporters on Monday.

Three candidates

The coach has all but ruled Ribéry and Toni out of his plans for the Bundesliga restart game away to Hoffenheim on 8 August. Bastian Schweinsteiger managed a 20-minute comeback from injury against Köln last Friday, and that might also be the case for the Frenchman and Italian, the Dutch chief mused.