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Mourinho's new rock - Jones forms the base behind Man Utd upturn

BeSoccer by BeSoccer @besoccer_com - 0 357

Pin Phil Jones is important for Manchester United. Goal
Phil Jones is important for Manchester United. Goal

Mourinho's new rock - Jones forms the base behind Man Utd upturn

BeSoccer by BeSoccer @besoccer_com - 0 357

The injury-plagued defender has bounced back to make himself an indispensable part of the United first team in recent weeks.

Just six weeks ago, Phil Jones was a man that time had almost forgotten. Ten months without senior football had kept the Manchester United defender away from the spotlight at a time when his club were going through a major change of direction. It would have been all too easy for his name to be completely passed over as Jose Mourinho made plans for the future.

Jones’ 2015-16 season had been pretty much a washout. Having shone on the pre-season tour of the USA, the former Blackburn Rovers man was set to be a regular pick in Louis van Gaal’s second term until a blood clot was discovered in his calf on the eve of the opening game against Tottenham Hotspur. That kept him out for a month and he wouldn’t make his first start until October, but by then Chris Smalling and Daley Blind had begun to cement themselves as the first-choice central defensive pair.

By January, United were barely keeping their heads above water on the pitch and Jones was back in the physio room, a problematic ankle injury putting paid to his hopes of contributing in the run-in as United missed out on Champions League football. Even as Mourinho rocked up at Carrington to replace Van Gaal, Jones was struggling to overcome the constant issues and by September he was back on the sidelines with a knee injury.

But November brought with it a fresh start for the 24-year-old once identified by Sir Bobby Charlton as a new Duncan Edwards. When Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw ruled themselves out of the trip to Swansea, causing consternation with the manager, Mourinho turned to Jones. And boy, how he has repaid him. As United head for West Bromwich Albion on Saturday hoping to record a third straight win, Jones will surely be one of the first names on the teamsheet.

Jones has played in eight of United’s last nine games in all competitions, with the Red Devils unbeaten in that time and having conceded just six goals. The new solidity and authority on display at the heart of defence has been the key feature of the recent run which has seen United consolidate their stuttering campaign and finally begin to move forward.

Marcos Rojo has surprised many with his commanding displays in the left-sided centre-half slot but the Argentine’s tendency to fly in to rash tackles, as exemplified against both Everton and Crystal Palace over the last couple of weeks, has been of some concern. Jones, on the other hand, has quietly but confidently gone about the business of solidifying the heart of this Manchester United side.

When Antonio Valencia missed Wednesday’s trip to Selhurst Park through suspension it would have been very easy for Mourinho to switch Jones into the right-back position and slot Eric Bailly back in at centre-back following the Ivorian’s return to fitness. But the Portuguese gave Jones a huge vote of confidence in maintaining him in the middle and backing him to get the job done.

"I am a manager that likes specialists, not multi-functional players," warned Mourinho when he was unveiled as United manager in the summer, and to many that meant that doors may be closed off to the likes of Jones, who over the course of his United career has played as a centre-back, full-back and often even as a defensive midfielder.

Jones’ response has been to make himself irreplaceable at the heart of defence. With Smalling due back in contention in the coming days and Bailly set to bounce straight back from the knee issue which curtailed his night at Palace on Wednesday, it might have been the expectation that Jones would find his immediate future among the United substitutes or back in the stands.

But right now it appears to be ‘Jones plus one’ as the preferred centre-back partnership with the Red Devils’ renaissance man having made himself indispensable in Mourinho’s side at a time when United are beginning to get their swagger back.

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