For Mourinho, Manchester City fans are welcome to marvel at John Stones doing Cruyff turns inside his penalty area. He is happy that, at Old Trafford, he has someone like Phil Jones to kick and head balls clear, just like John Terry used to do at Stamford Bridge.
The return of Jones from a series of injury problems has coincided with United’s recent upturn in form, despite losing another centre-back in Eric Bailly. Jones, 24, will play his fourth game in a row against West Ham today — his longest run for more than a year.
‘Sometimes defenders now think the most important quality is to build from the back,’ said Mourinho. ‘That is not the most important quality. The most important quality is to defend. It is difficult to compare players. Jones is faster than John [Terry], John is better in the air than Jones. They are different players but what I like is defenders who enjoy to defend. Then, if you can add quality in the build-up, you become a very good player.’
One senses Mourinho is beginning to enjoy this season’s challenge of turning fashion on its head. All the praise Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Arsene Wenger have received for their attractive pressing and passing games appeals to the United manager’s siege mentality.
Jones fits in perfectly to the principle that, if you are dominant in the two penalty areas, other teams can tiki-taka all they like.
The centre-half was likened to Duncan Edwards when he was signed by Sir Alex Ferguson from Blackburn. It proved a millstone around his neck and his body repeatedly let him down. He has reported 28 separate injuries in his five years at Old Trafford and Mourinho admits he did not know whether to seriously include him in his plans when he went down with a knee ligament problem this season.
‘I have to confess, even I felt that fear when he was injured again at the beginning of the season,’ said Mourinho. ‘But in the last month, he has given great performances in a moment when the team lost Bailly and [Chris] Smalling at the same time. He gave us the stability that we have at the moment.
‘He was not really ready to play in his first game at Swansea but he stepped in front because the team didn’t have players to play. I went for it. He has good personality, now with one or two weeks of football and training he looks very sharp and the team is safe.
‘His condition looks very good and his confidence is coming up. He is playing really well, no mistakes in 90 minutes. I’m really happy for the team as the team is the most important thing but I’m happy for him when so many people were thinking about him being injury- prone and that it is difficult for him to be back to his level.
‘He was very highly rated at Blackburn, then played many important matches for Manchester United and his international team. Then he had a break, a break, a break and a break, injury after injury after injury and finally he plays for Manchester United in a row — and so well.’
It is ironic that the return of Jones has helped Mourinho rediscover his mojo after the manager cut a forlorn figure earlier in the season. For all the talents of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw, the United manager likes dependables and Jones joins Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in those.
After being suspended for last Saturday’s draw against Arsenal, Ibrahimovic has spent the last few days acting as a cheerleader for Mourinho and helping the team beat Feyenoord 4-0.
Looking forward to an important game against West Ham, the Swede is highlighting the positives again and claims United can be Premier League champions, despite being adrift of the top five clubs.
‘I don’t see the gap as very big. You win two or three games, you’ll arrive there,’ he said. ‘That is what is nice about the Premier League. If we were in Spain, Italy or France, the gap would be much bigger and I’d probably be sitting here and saying we have to aim for something else. But we are aiming to be champions and that is what we want. And we can still do it.’
Ibrahimovic ended a minor goal drought with a brace at Swansea in his last Premier League outing on November 6. At home, however, United have drawn against Stoke, Burnley and Arsenal, despite dominating those games.
But the striker said: ‘I have scored more than 450 goals in my career. I know how to score goals. I would be worried if I don’t get the chances, but the team are creating many chances and the rest will come.’
Mail On Sunday
Original source: Mourinho banking on Jones