Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho cannot remember when injury-hit defender Phil Jones last enjoyed a strong run of performances.
Mourinho conceded he may have to include Jones, who has been named in the squad to face Fenerbahce after recovering from a knee ligament injury, in Thursday’s Europa League clash due to the absences of Antonio Valencia, Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling.
Jones has not featured in a competitive game since January and his rotten luck with injuries has left Mourinho struggling to recall when the centre-back was last in form.
The Portuguese told a media conference: “I almost don’t remember when Phil Jones had a good run of matches for United. I remember that, when I was at Real Madrid, I played against Man United and Phil Jones played in Madrid. I don’t remember many occasions after that.
“He’s having a difficult relationship with injuries but he worked hard to recover, he’s training with the team for more than a week now.
“We’re in a difficult situation because we lost three defenders in Valencia, Bailly and Smalling. We don’t have more time to be in better condition so we have to select him and maybe we have to play him.”
Mourinho has been vehement in his stance that United should always be in the Champions League but, with a place in the group stage of Europe’s premier club competition next season on offer for the Europa League winners, he does see the value of competing in the secondary tournament.
“My opinion changed because the rules changed and Europa League winner has a direct spot for the Champions League, so for the last few years for the big clubs it has a different meaning. It’s another way to qualify for the Champions League,” he added.
“The big clubs belong to the Champions League and the Champions League belongs to their history. I don’t change my perspective on that.”
Valencia is sidelined because of a broken arm, but Mourinho has faith in Matteo Darmian, who replaced the Ecuador international at right-back in last weekend’s 0-0 draw with Burnley.
Mourinho said: “Valencia’s a bad injury, he has an important fracture in his arm and surgery, too. He’ll be out for a while. But the good thing is that, even when Antonio was playing very well, we were preparing Darmian.
“He played Feyenoord, Zorya Luhansk, Fenerbahce. In the last match, we had to play Darmian for the first time in the Premier League, he was ready to answer, playing really well. So we trust him completely.”
Darmian expressed sympathy for his injured team-mate, saying: “Of course, I work a lot in the first part of the season and have to be ready when the manager gives me an opportunity.
“I feel sorry for Antonio for his injury. We wait on his recovery and I hope he can come back as soon as possible.”