Phil Jones is embracing Louis van Gaal’s three centre-back system, with the 22-year-old determined to become a long-term player in the position following the departures of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.
Jones was United’s best defender in the 7-0 hammering of LA Galaxy in Pasadena in the club’s opening tour match. Van Gaal opted for a fluid 5-2-3 or 5-3-2 system in which Jones played alongside Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans in defence.
Since joining United he has often been played out of position – at right-back and in midfield – but Jones hopes he will now be selected regularly in central defence.
Of the formation, which is new to the United squad, Jones said: “The lads have been brilliant in training. The gaffer has told us how he wants us to play and they way he wants to play this season. It’s a learning process but we’re all pulling in the right direction.
“We played three at the back with Luke [Shaw] and Antonio [Valencia] as wing-backs. And it worked. It’s a learning process but we’re getting used to it. Day by day we’re getting better and we’ll be ready for the start of the season. Like I said it’s a work in process. This is the first time I’ve played three at the back. Every manager has got his philosophy. We’re all pulling in the right direction and hopefully we’ll have a better season.”
Two goals each from Wayne Rooney, Ashley Young and the debutant Reece James, who was one of nine half-time changes made by Van Gaal, plus Danny Welbeck’s opener, allowed United to coast to an easy victory before flying to Denver for Saturday’s meeting with Roma in their opening International Champions Cup group match.
Asked if the squad can play the new shape, Jones said: “That’s what the gaffer believes in. If he believes in that then we believe in that as well.”
Jones does not feel it will be a difficult adjustment. “Defenders are defenders. The main thing for a defender is to defend. Defend the space and defend the goal. At times you’ve got the two wing-backs helping you as well.”
Of his hopes of succeeding Ferdinand and Vidic, Jones said: “That’s ultimately what I want to be doing. Everyone is trying to impress and hopefully we can start the season off well. We’ve lost two great defenders in Rio and Nemanja. But that’s football and we move on. We’ve got good players to replace them and hopefully we can all step up and improve that.”
Jones described how a three centre-back shape will work in the upcoming season. “If one goes in the other two have got to come round and cover. It’s the same when you’re playing two at the back, one goes up for a header the other comes round,” he said. “Of course, as a defender you need a lot of communication. Talking to the people around you and if we get that right we’ll be good.”