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Tony Pulis wants Phil Jones and Chris Smalling at West Bromwich Albion

Manchester United’s signing of Victor Lindelof means that Jose Mourinho officially has a lot of defenders to choose from. Last summer, Mourinho brought Eric Bailly to United and he stunned viewers with just how good he was when available. Daley Blind quietly impressed all season despite being very diminutive and playing in a variety of positions, and Marcos Rojo had the best season of his career under Jose Mourinho last year.

However, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling have been unquantifiable since Sir Alex Ferguson left Manchester United. Jones seems to be an important player when fit, but not a starter and never fit. Chris Smalling, meanwhile, almost became club captain after excellent form under Louis van Gaal before he was found out towards the end of Van Gaal’s tenure and became even worse under Mourinho.

Reports indicate that Tony Pulis could be after Jones and Smalling to unite with him at West Bromwich Albion, perhaps ending their tumultuous times at Old Trafford. The problems surrounding Jones and Smalling would render some fans excited at the concept that Jones and Smalling could be leaving, but is selling both the correct decision?

Looking at the other four options at United right now, Bailly and Lindelof seem most likely to start matches. Behind them are Rojo and Blind, who, while playing as a partnership last season, struggled due to being less aerially and physically imposing. Blind and Rojo are both excellent on the ground, but neither is physically imposing, particularly when compared to Bailly or Lindelof.

Furthermore, the HCL injury that Rojo sustained in April virtually rules him out for the rest of 2017, leaving just one defender in reserve if Bailly or Lindelof is injured. This would mean that, should two defenders sustain injuries, Mourinho would likely have to play someone out of position or use Axel Tuanzebe or Timothy Fosu-Mensah in this position, which he has typically not done.

Answering these questions would ultimately determine whether Smalling and/or Jones should be sold. Tuanzebe and Fosu-Mensah promise excellence for the next decade, but are they better than Smalling and Jones right now? Additionally, both Tuanzebe and Fosu-Mensah were used in midfield or at right-back for United, and Jose Mourinho’s signings of the young Lindelof and Bailly imply that they could be groomed for these positions in the future. Would they be needed in other positions this season?

Mourinho’s only midfield backups to Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba are the much less effective, very tactically different Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini. Combine this with the fact that Mourinho is likely to play three midfielders in the side, and this becomes even more suspect. At right-back, Antonio Valencia is the only natural fit that doesn’t include Matteo Darmian, who could be the starting left-back next season.

Mourinho could sign another defender, but are there many established upgrades on Jones and Smalling who would be willing to sit on the bench? These are all questions that could complicate Tony Pulis’ pursuit of Jones and Smalling, and the answer is likely going to come down to Mourinho’s trust of the other options at the club.

If he believes that Tuanzebe, Fosu-Mensah, and other youth players can fill the roles in his squad, and he can trust these players to perform to a higher standard than Jones and Smalling, United fans will be happy to see Jones and Smalling at another club where they will have first-team football. But, if he doesn’t believe that youth players can understudy in midfield, at centre-back, and at fullback, odds are, one of these two defenders, if not both, will be retained by Jose Mourinho until January at least. Don’t hold your breath on this rumour.

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