Jose Mourinho has fixed several things during his time in charge of Manchester United. Suddenly, there are expectations surrounding the club once more; trophies are expected, big name players are excited to make their way to Old Trafford once again and some of the familiar swagger that a characterised Sir Alex Ferguson’s time in charge has returned.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing, of course. Three consecutive defeats at the hands of Manchester City, Feyenoord and Watford in the space of eight days certainly burst the bubble of optimism that was felt in the club’s fanbase after three straight Premier League victories. Those losses were all characterised by one aspect that Mourinho has yet to fully fix, or provide an answer to; what does he do with United’s back four?
Initially, Daley Blind and Eric Bailly had formed a solid partnership in the centre of defence, but that good run of form was halted in the Manchester derby, and since then, Chris Smalling has been called in to partner Bailly with Blind asked to fill in at left back in the absence of Luke Shaw. United have other options, of course; Marcos Rojo and Timothy Fosu-Mensah are both capable of filling in at centre back, and left or right back respectively.
One player who will be equally as keen to challenge his colleagues for a place in that starting XI will be Phil Jones. The England defender hasn’t played a game of competitive football since January, and was in line for an appearance two weeks ago against Feyenoord, but Jones picked up a knee injury in training.
Despite being fitted with a leg brace, the Daily Mail is reporting that Jones could join up with his colleagues as early as Monday, giving him a relatively quiet two weeks in order to work on his fitness and sharpness whilst a large proportion of United’s players go out on international duty. With competition for places relatively fierce in Mourinho’s side, Jones would be wise to make use of this period to impress his manager, given the perception of the former Rovers defender as a permanently injured member of this United squad.
The odds are already stacked against him somewhat, with Fosu-Mensah highly tipped to do well for this club over the next few years, and Blind, Bailly and Smalling arguably ahead of him in the pecking order having offered relatively solid displays themselves this season. With that being the case, Jones really needs to come back firing if he is to force his way into United’s defence on a more permanent basis.