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Phil Jones is desperate to play in the Europa League final but should he?

The UEFA Europa League final is only days away, Manchester United need to get through a final Premier League match against Crystal Palace at Old Trafford on Sunday, which will not be held high in being a memorable match after the defeats against Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur followed by the midweek 0-0 bore draw against Southampton. Phil Jones has played in all three of those matches and he wants to secure himself in the starting XI against Ajax at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden on Wednesday evening. In fact, Jones is desperate to play in a European final for his club and he knows it will be a big battle to do so, even given that Eric Bailly will miss the match through suspension. United manager Jose Mourinho has given a hit on his final team, well he’s stated that Sergio Romero will start in goal. Speaking to the official Manchester United website about replacing Bailly in the team, the Portuguese manager said:

“Of course, yes. That’s what the people who are having opportunities are doing in the last matches.

“If Eric Bailly is not playing the final, who plays the final? Smalling or Jones? It is these kind of questions that I have to answer.”

Both Jones and Chris Smalling were injured for the past two months before returning recently. Now that they are both fit, they will serve as a problem for Mourinho in who will start in the final. Smalling is not at his best and has not been all season and is a possible departure from the club this summer. With Bailly being suspended and Marcos Rojo injured, the pair who will have been dead certs to play in the final will miss the match, leaving United much weaker in defence. Daley Blind has partnered Bailly since Rojo was injured and for the most part, he has done well at the back. Mourinho seems to suggest that only one of Jones or Smalling will start, meaning Blind could be the other central defender for the final, playing against his former club, which will be a big occasion for him.

Jones wants it to be him in the final, playing for the final piece of silverware this season, which could see United end on a high, winning the only major trophy they have never won and will have qualified for the UEFA Champions League next season, something they have fallen short of in the league this season. Smalling is a contender for Jones but based on his recent displays and those from earlier in the season where Jones and Rojo were the first choice pairing whilst Bailly was injured and playing in the African Cup of Nations, for me, Jones will be the guy to start in the centre of defence, alongside Daley Blind, or even Axel Tuanzebe as possible the long shot. Speaking to MUTV and reported by the official Manchester United website after the 0-0 draw with Southampton on Wednesday, Jones spoke United’s squad and him itching to play in the final in Sweden, he said:

“We’ve got a fantastic squad and we’re all itching to play in the final. It’s a final, you’d be lying if you said you didn’t want to play in a final but, as an individual, you can only do what you do best and do well for the team. Whoever plays in the final is good enough to go out there, do the business and win the game.”

United first have Crystal Palace to deal with at Old Trafford in the Premier League. A match where Mourinho has said he will play youth with Joel Pereira, Kieran O’Hara, Demi Mitchell, Scott McTominay, Josh Harrop, Matty Willock, Angel Gomes, Zachary Dearnley, Tim Fosu-Mensah and Axel Tuanzebe all set to play a part in the match, even if it is only a place on the bench, it all gives the player’s experience of what is expected of them. Mourinho will rest many of his first team, but some will need minutes ahead of Wednesday’s final, such as Paul Pogba. Jones though, has been looking ahead to the final, thinking about what might be for him and his teammates, saying:

“You’d be crazy to put it out of your thoughts completely. It’s a huge game for us, we’re excited about the final and we’ve won a cup already.

“People will look at the table and say we’ve not had a good season but, ultimately, would you rather finish second and win nothing or win two cups and be in the Champions League?”

Jones also spoke about the travelling supporters throughout the season, not only at St Mary’s on Wednesday but through the season as a whole. He said they have been fantastic, as they are the majority of the time. The fact that United have so many fans, travelling the length and breadth of the country and Europe to follow their team on the path to glory. Then there are the not so lucky fans who have to watch at home as not every supporter is able to attend matches, let alone follow the team they support around the country and abroad, that does not mean they are the lesser fans. Jones said:

“They’ve been fantastic all season – home and away. The lads in the dressing room appreciate it, they really do. On a Wednesday night, to travel all the way to Southampton for a 0-0 draw is good and we need that [support] on Sunday [against Crystal Palace] and in the final.”

Manchester United will either make it or break it this season. Winning in Sweden will mean that only Chelsea have had a better season, and they could win the double as it is. United have already won the FA Community Shield and the EFL Cup, not the best trophies they would want to win, but it is still more than the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal, who aside of Arsenal who still have the Emirates FA Cup to contest for, will end the season with nothing, only finishing higher than United, who could end up with two major trophies and the FA Community Shield and next season could challenge for the UEFA Super Cup, a trophy they have contested three times and won only once, back in 1991. This will be a defining season for Manchester United, one which could set another foundation to return to the glory days. But the main question will be, who starts in the final in defence; Chris Smalling or Phil Jones?

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