Phil Jones

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One area where Mourinho was right: Man Utd badly needs center backs

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Big Manchester United wins and losses, especially post-Alex Ferguson, have a tendency to get overstated at both ends of the spectrum, but there’s plenty to take away from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s recent struggles at the helm of the Red Devils.

[ MORE: Recap | Solskjaer reacts ]

For one thing: Jose Mourinho wasn’t right about much this Manchester United season, but he knew he needed better men in the back.

Everton’s beautiful opener in the first half of Sunday’s 4-0 pummeling of the Red Devils may tempt some to wash over the defending, but heading below the surface shows more problems.

The opener saw Richarlison score a terrific overhead kick after Dominic Calvert-Lewin flick a Lucas Digne throw-in to the back post. Beautiful, for sure, but Smalling never gets up to thwart Calvert-Lewin’s powerful jump.

Now that’s certainly just one example, but United’s slide is a feature of a few things.

Nineteen goals conceded in 17 PL matches is a clear upgrade from the 29 in 17 under Mourinho, and let’s not pretend United hasn’t been better with Solskjaer at the proverbial wheel.

Throw in a very average season from David De Gea — which in his case is far below standards — and it’s not a surprise that United is flailing away from the Top Four. The Alexis Sanchez move has been poor, Romelu Lukaku‘s form has dipped save back-to-back braces against a pair of unremarkable defenses, and Paul Pogba remains mercurial. He’s a monster of the midfield at his best, and a drifting object in the wind at his worst.

There’s a comparison to made with where Liverpool was under Brendan Rodgers somewhere, a legendary club not quite sure of how to fit its standard to its standing. Marcus Rashford needs room to grow, not constant comparison to Romelu Lukaku. There are a lot of extra pieces in the squad, the guys you like as a luxury for a great team but are either too old or too green to be reliable.

Of center backs to play in 10 or more Premier League matches this season, Phil Jones ranks 16th, Chris Smalling is 38th, and Victor Lindelof is 44th. Only 57 are ranked. Advanced stats aren’t foolproof, but they help (Jones and little-used Eric Bailly, for what it’s worth, were well-rated last season).

The club needs a big rebuild, to be sure. De Gea is a suitable goalkeeper for a team with top end ambitions, and we know that Lukaku and Pogba at their best can dominate (whether either is capable of doing it consistently under anyone is a debate).

But really, perhaps De Gea’s amazing 2017-18 and Mourinho’s defense-first system papered over something that’s been evident for some time. There’s neither a Aymeric Laporte or Toby Alderweireld at United, let alone a Virgil Van Dijk.

Phil Jones signs new contract at Man United

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Phil Jones has signed a new contract at Manchester United, so we can look forward to seeing more of his wonderfully weird faces as he throws himself into the thick of the action.

Jones, 26, has extended his stay at Old Trafford until the summer of 2023 with an option to extend it for another year, as he has finally shaken off his lengthy battle with injuries and has become a regular under caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

United’s caretaker boss has now seen Anthony Martial and Jones sign new deals, as his impact at the club is clearly leading to players committing their future to United.

Speaking about his deal, Jones was delighted to remain at United and try and add to the Premier League, Europa League and FA Cup titles he has won at the club.

“I am delighted to have signed a new contract. Manchester United has been a big part of my life for eight years and I love everything about this club,” Jones said. “I am excited about the challenges that lie ahead of us as we prepare for a very busy period in the season. I would like to thank Ole and the coaching staff for their continued support in my development.”

If Jones can stay fit, there’s no doubting that he will be a key defensive player for United. It is also hard to believe he’s only 26 years old, as he’s now played in the Premier League for the last nine years since bursting onto the scene at Blackburn Rovers then moving to United.

Jones and Chris Smalling have been scapegoats in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era at United, and in many cases you can understand why with some high-profile mistakes.

But with Eric Bailly being linked with a move away, locking up Jones and Chris Smalling (he signed a new deal in 2018) to long-term deals makes sense at least to keep some defensive cover at the club. Victor Lindelof has been superb in recent months and although Jose Mourinho made it clear he wanted to add new center backs and didn’t do so, the defenders United have aren’t as bad as some would suggest.

Jones’ penchant for own goals, heading the ball while laying on the floor and making strange faces are the gifts that keep on giving.

United will hope he can now stay fit and kick on after several injury-hit seasons saw him lose his place as an England international.

Man United sleepwalk in Valencia loss

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  • Soler beats Romero for opener
  • Jones scores ghastly own goal
  • Rashford pulls one back

Manchester United wasted a chance to win its Champions League group by falling 2-1 to Valencia at the Mestalla Stadium on Wednesday.

Marcus Rashford‘s 87th minute goal was all United could muster in the loss.

Young Boys stunned Juventus in Switzerland to open the door for Jose Mourinho’s men, but a Carlos Soler low drive and a Phil Jones own goal were United’s undoing.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

Antonio Valencia was extremely fortunate not to be sent off for a horrible studs-up tackle on Toni Lato that left the defender requiring medical attention for a gash.

Valencia, the club, scored through Soler’s low drive through traffic, which beat Sergio Romero.

The Spanish side missed two chances to make it 2-0, with Michy Batshuayi mis-hitting a terrific Cristiano Piccini cross and Geoffrey Kondogbia stymied by Marouane Fellaini‘s marking.

Pogba missed a straight-forward chance to level the score when Fellaini pounded a header into his path, but the French star hit the ball wide of the gaping frame from inside the six.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Michy Batshuayi ran alongside Phil Jones, and the English defender slid to push a perfect shot… past his own goalkeeper, David De Gea.

Mourinho: Again, Manchester United failed to kill the game

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He’s quotable. Give him that.

Jose Mourinho is under a hail of criticism after 10-man Manchester United was ousted from the League Cup at the hands of Frank Lampard‘s Derby County.

[ MORE: Recap, League Cup wrap ]

United took a third-minute lead but fell behind 2-1 before Marouane Fellaini‘s stoppage time header pushed the match to penalty kicks, where Phil Jones missed the 16th kick of the contest.

“We practice penalties and we see it in training,” Mourinho said. “And when we get past the sixth penalty I know we’re in trouble with Bailly and Jones.”

[ MORE: “Shellshocked” Lampard reacts ]

At best, there’s a bit of humor somewhere in there. At worst, Mourinho tossed a couple of center backs under the proverbial bus (one he didn’t park on Tuesday).

As for the 90 minutes before kicks, Mourinho said the loss was similar to Saturday’s draw against Wolves. He told his players to get going in the second half or else.

Turned out, it was else.

Mourinho refused to elaborate on his stripping of Paul Pogba‘s vice captaincy. Pogba was not in the lineup on Tuesday after criticizing United’s tactics following a 1-1 draw with Wolves at the weekend.

From The Manchester Evening News:

“The only truth is that I made the decision of Paul not to be the second captain anymore,” Mourinho told Sky Sports. “But no fall-out. No problems at all. The same person that decides Paul is not second captain anymore was exactly the same person that decides that Paul was the second captain, myself. I am the manager, I can make these decisions, no fall-out at all, no problems at all, just one decision that I don’t have to explain.”

The storms of controversy that follow Mourinho seem overwhelming at times, and whether this loss sticks with him and/or moves the meter in regards to his job security. Regardless, it’s difficult to believe any major changes would come in the middle of a very difficult Champions League group stage.

United visits West Ham on Saturday before Valencia visits in the Champions League next week.

Mourinho: Manchester United flying at final whistle

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Jose Mourinho didn’t want to sound too positive after Manchester United’s sterling performance on Opening Day, but he couldn’t help himself.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 4-0 West Ham ]

While saying the match was more difficult than it looked, admitting that West Ham did come close to making it 2-1 through Marko Arnautovic, Mourinho said his side was humming at the final whistle.

“At 2-nil they had a chance and I don’t think the game (goes to) 4-nil,” Mourinho said. “Then of course we scored the third goal, you breathe and you relax but probably if you play 10 more minutes, more goals.”

He said United’s start of the match wasn’t what he wanted, but downplayed the lively post-match tenor of, well, everyone else. From the BBC:

“The fact we start winning and are top, it means nothing. The performance and the levels of confidence is what means a lot to me.”

United center back Phil Jones joined NBC’s broadcast crew on the Old Trafford pitch after the game, and said the side accomplished its goals for Opening Day.

“It was well-documented last season that we didn’t pick up as many points as we should’ve at home for whatever reason. It was important for us and the fans to feel and get some positive vibes at the start of the season.”

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Finally, hero Romelu Lukaku bagged a brace and said United fans can expect more of the same from Mourinho’s crew (from the BBC):

“The fans want to see attractive football and we have to stick to that. They will be pleased today. It is just the start, we need to keep working to the manager’s plan.”