If José Mourinho was going to show any of the Manchester United defenders the door this summer, it looked like it would be Chris Smalling. The England international fell beneath Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones in the pecking order last season, and ended up making only 13 Premier League starts — fewer than he’d made in any season since 2012-13.
However, Smalling has featured regularly — if unconvincingly — so far in pre-season, frequently forming a centre-back pairing with new signing Victor Lindelöf. The duo both started in United’s defeat to Barcelona yesterday, though were replaced by Jones and Eric Bailly at halftime. According to Mourinho, the reason for starting Smalling and Lindelöf will become clear “in the next couple of days”:
“I think we will understand the reason in a couple of days. Bailly is suspended for the first two matches [in the Super Cup and Champions League], as you know, and I think in the next couple of days we will have the understanding of why I play Lindelof and Smalling.”
We can’t help but wonder exactly what this great defensive revelation will be. Presumably it’s not that Jones is injured — if he was, he’d surely not be involved in pre-season at all. More plausible is that Jones himself could make an exit, though nothing to that end is currently being reported in the media. It would certainly come as a surprise: Mourinho was widely regarded to quite like Jones, or at least consider him useful enough to keep around the place — a more generous evaluation than many United fans had given the former Blackburn Rovers man at the start of last season.
Of course, it’s possible this quote means nothing, and we’re reading too much into things, but it seems a strange thing to say. Thoughts, anyone?