Jones set for season bow
Phil Jones is ready to come in from the cold and start Thursday's Europa League clash against Kazakhstan side Astana at Old Trafford.
The Manchester United central defender has not played this season, despite being available for more than month, suggesting boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is already settled on Victor Lindelof as Harry Maguire’s preferred partner.
Chris Smalling was recently allowed to join Roma on loan for the season, perhaps giving Jones some hope he can yet force his way into the equation if he can somehow stay fit.
Solskjaer plans a number of changes to his starting line-up for the visit of Astana in a bid to keep some of his established players fresh for the trip to West Ham United this Sunday.
Jones could find himself partnered with 21-year-old Axel Tuanzebe, who came on for the final minute of Saturday’s narrow 1-0 victory over Leicester City at the Theatre of Dreams.
Jones last featured for United on the final day of last season, an embarrassing 2-0 home loss to already-relegated Cardiff City, with speculation he could be one of the names purged by his manager during the close-season.
The Red Devils, however, handed the burly England defender a new deal earlier this year and Solskjaer remains convinced he has plenty to offer when injury-free.
It is certainly the case Jones has never rocked the boat and he does seem happy being a useful squad player, but that could change if regular game time becomes a problem during the campaign.
The former Blackburn Rovers man was signed for £17m in 2011, but he has made just 189 appearances in eight years at United, adding to the overall frustrations of a player now supposed to be heading into his peak years.
United’s bosses have made hoisting the Europa League trophy a realistic aim this term, with the added carrot of Champions League football on offer for the eventual winner.
Solskjaer, though, intends to strike the right balance between doing just that and not flogging his regular starters, putting Jones in the frame for his first appearance this season.
Neil Foster is an experienced journalist who specialises in cricket and rugby union. Neil also has a solid knowledge of tennis, golf and football.