Phil Jones has handed Roy Hodgson a boost as the defender's recovery from his shoulder injury is ahead of schedule and there is optimism he will join up with England when the manager's squad travel to Portugal on Monday to start their World Cup preparations.
When announcing the 23-man party – plus seven reserve players – for next month's finals in Brazil Hodgson admitted Jones was the one concern because of the injury he suffered in a clash with Hull City's Maynor Figueroa in United's 3-1 win on 6 May. The 22-year-old is improving every day, though, and Jones is hopeful of taking his place on the plane when England fly to Vale de Lobo for a five-day training camp before returning to England for a friendly with Peru at Wembley on 30 May.
If Jones is fit, it represents good news for Hodgson as he can cover three positions. The manager wants him to offer an option at centre-back, right-back and in defensive midfield.
Yet central defence is Jones's preferred position and should, as is expected, Louis van Gaal arrive to become United's new manager the 2011 signing from Blackburn will hope to be given a chance finally to cement this berth in the first team.
Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand have now left United, leaving Jones one of three senior centre-backs, along with Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling.
On Tuesday Jones – along with Smalling – was criticised by Roy Keane, with the former United captain claiming he has failed to develop since his £16m move from Ewood Park. "We were told Jones was going to be the new Duncan Edwards – Smalling was going to be this and that," said Keane. "You say you have to give players a chance to mature, but also you've got players who you say: 'We've given you a chance and you're not taking it.'
"They need to do a lot better if they want to cement their place at United.
"Jones needs to toughen up. Every time I see him he is getting carried off." The shoulder problem is the 17th different injury Jones has suffered since joining United from Blackburn.
On Wednesday Jones posted a picture on Twitter of himself with Vidic and Ferdinand as a tribute to the pair, with the legend: "Honoured to have played alongside these 2!#Legends of game and great #friends. Thank you both!!!"