Phil Jones is on the road to full fitness following an injury nightmare and after coming through back-to-back 90 minutes for Manchester United’s under-23s unscathed, he’ll have aspirations of breaking back into the first team.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer might well be considering including him in the matchday squad for the Carabao Cup third round clash against West Ham.
The 29-year-old’s last appearance for the first team came in January 2020, which was a 6-0 away win in the FA Cup against Tranmere Rovers, in a game which Jones scored in.
Four days prior to the cup clash at Prenton Park, Jones started alongside Harry Maguire in a 2-0 home defeat against Burnley which resulted in a chorus of boos and discontent ringing around Old Trafford.
But it was only a week later that United signed Bruno Fernandes and how things have changed since then.
Whilst Jones is one of the few players in the United dressing room to win the Premier League, he’ll be itching to get on that pitch for the first time with teammates Raphael Varane, Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Should Phil Jones start against West Ham?
Varane and Maguire are expected to be rested and Eric Bailly will probably make his first start of the season.
The question is who will partner Bailly? Victor Lindelof already has three United starts to his name this season, but the Sweden captain wasn’t part of the matchday squad for the dramatic win at the London Stadium.
Teden Mengi who has started the last two under-23s games alongside Jones will be hoping for a first team chance against the Hammers, but he could be on EFL Trophy duty for Neil Wood’s under-21 side against Bradford tonight.
If Lindelof isn’t available or is given the night off, Jones could be given a chance to impress at the heart of United’s defence.
Following his suspension at the weekend, Michail Antonio who has started the season on fire for West Ham could start Wednesday’s clash.
Coming against the Premier League’s joint top goalscorer would be a far cry from the level Jones’ two appearances have come so far this season.
Three at the back?
However, another option would be to play Jones in the middle of a back three alongside Bailly and Lindelof. This way, especially if he is coming up against Antonio, the former England international will have cover and protection either side of him.
Playing alongside the first team centre backs, who are ahead of him in the pecking order, would probably make Jones feel more comfortable and reduce the chances of him potentially being exposed on his first team return.
It may well be that Solskjaer goes with Bailly and Lindelof as a two against David Moyes’ side and if we hopefully progress and get a more favourable draw, Jones’ first team recall could come then.
In that time he would have built up more valuable fitness and game time playing for the under-23s.
Phil Jones has shown great resilience to overcome his injury struggles once again and he isn’t giving up on his Manchester United career, he will believe he can get back into United’s starting line-up.
- Manchester United and Atalanta are polar opposites in one specific category
- Brandon Williams may have to be patient to regain Norwich starting spot
- Lack of Pogba to Ronaldo connection is biggest attacking disappointment
- How Manchester United could line-up v Atalanta in 3-5-2 formation
- Manchester United’s weakened defence have to contain in-form Duvan Zapata