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Jose Mourinho can rely on ‘brave’ Phil Jones

No more than a month ago, Phil Jones was a forgotten man at Old Trafford. A player of immense potential consigned to the annuls of history as yet another unfortunate individual beaten down by injuries and poor fortune. Yet here we are, one month later and Jones is the lynchpin of Jose Mourinho’s back four following five successive games at the heart of United’s defence.

Mourinho deserves credit for bringing Jones in from out of the cold, but even more credit must go to the man himself. After being out for ten months, without so much as even one substitute appearance for the first team since January, Jones was thrust into the action against Swansea City at the start of November. Given the scenario facing Jones, his performance was exemplary and drew great praise from his manager in his post-match interview.

“He was a brave guy to say: ‘I am ready for the team’ when he wasn’t. After two or three months without kicking a ball, he was only ready in the mind. But that’s where it matters and he had a great performance.”

Jones’ return was overshadowed by Mourinho’s comments about two of his teammates. Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw were criticised by the United manager as they made themselves unavailable for the trip to South Wales. While Shaw has since featured for United in several subsequent matches, Smalling has not. In his place, Jones has thrived. This run of consecutive matches is his longest in the first team for almost two years but his performances could convince you he’s never been away.

Many laughed when Sir Alex Ferguson suggested Jones could be ‘one of the best players we have ever had’ with the potential to be ‘a phenomenal player’. After three years of underwhelming displays and a list of injuries so long it almost became comical, the mockery was irrepressible. Jones is still just 24, though. While he may never hit the heights of Best, Law or Charlton, his latest revival under Jose Mourinho could be the making of him. Mourinho is certainly confident of his ability.

“Sometimes defenders now think the most important ability is to build from the back, it’s not. The most important thing is to defend and that’s what I like about Phil Jones. He likes to defend, he wants to play as a defender.”

Jones is developing into a typical Mourinho player. Reliable, brave, hard-working and resolute, Jones fits the profile of a defensive warrior that Mourinho has valued so highly in each of his previous teams. John Terry, Walter Samuel, Pepe, could Jones be next? Mourinho demands his central defenders are able to lead from the back, defenders who love to defend. That’s exactly what he’s found in Phil Jones.

Phil Jones has completes more clearances per match than any other United player (10.7) according to whoscored.com

Phil Jones completes more clearances per match than any other United player (10.7) according to whoscored.com

The stats can back that up too. According to whoscored.com, Jones has embraced his role as Mourinho’s defensive rock, leading the way with an average of 10.7 clearances per game. On top of that, Jones is also yet to concede a single foul in three Premier League matches so far. While it is an incredibly small sample size, the signs are promising for a player who was completely written off just five weeks ago.

Only one United player has a better pass success rate than Phil Jones this season (91.1%) according to whoscored.com

Only one United player has a better pass success rate than Phil Jones this season (91.1%) according to whoscored.com

While his no-nonsense style of defending may please his manager, his technical ability has shone through as well. Jones has shown he is as adept with the ball as he is without it, completing 91.1% of his passes. That figure is only beaten by Michael Carrick in the entire United squad, meaning Jones has used the ball more efficiently than both Ander Herrera and Juan Mata, as well as his defensive colleague Chris Smalling. Again, despite only playing three Premier League matches, Jones’ performances suggest this could be the turning point for a young man with a lot to prove.

As Mourinho looks to build a title-winning side at Old Trafford, he will need to create a core nucleus of players he can rely on and trust in the toughest moments. The winning formula that he utilised at Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid must be replicated at Manchester United too if he is to achieve notable success. In Jones he has found more than a player with great ability and determination, he has also found an ally, a player who is full of praise for his style of management. While Mourinho has received criticism for his handling of certain individuals this season, Jones appreciates the way his manager speaks to the squad.

“That’s all you can ask for as a player. Players need to know when they’ve done right and wrong. He does that.”

Mourinho has also been condemned for his antics on the touchline. After being sent to the stands during the 0-0 draw with Burnley at the end of October, Mourinho was also dismissed against West Ham for kicking a water bottle in frustration. Like most United fans, Jones was pleased to see his manager react that way – a reaction that has been missing from the Old Trafford dugout since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.

“I think that’s just passion. I like to see that from anyone – players, staff – it’s passion for the game and a willingness to win.”

The way Jones and Mourinho speak about one another is reminiscent of Mourinho’s relationships with the stalwarts of his other title-winning sides. Whether it was Frank Lampard and John Terry at Chelsea or Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Inter Milan, Mourinho has famously developed strong emotional bonds with players based on a mutual trust and respect. It may have only been five matches, but Jose is already impressed with the former Blackburn man.

“His condition looks very good and his confidence is improving. Phil is playing really well, no mistakes in 90 minutes, and I’m really happy for him.”

When he signed for Manchester United, Phil Jones was expected to form a partnership with Chris Smalling that had shown such early promise for the England Under-21 side. Instead, they have spent the last few years competing against one another directly. Under Louis van Gaal it seemed Smalling had won the battle and the confidence of his manager and left Jones out in the cold. Now though, fortune and circumstance have given Jones a second chance. This time around, he appears to be taking it.

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