Phil Jones is convinced Manchester United can cope with the absentees and arduous fixture list when taking on Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium.
Although the defender appreciates Boro are likely to be a tougher proposition after changing managers this week (with Aitor Karanka being sacked and Steve Agnew taking interim charge), he is determined the Reds can win the calendar month’s final fixture to keep up the chase for a top-four spot in the Premier League.
Jones, who was recalled to the England squad on Thursday, is fully aware of the need for three points to set things up nicely for the run-in. After beating FC Rostov to set up a Europa League quarter-final with Anderlecht, the Reds will be without suspended duo Ander Herrera and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, while Paul Pogba is injured and Daley Blind is a doubt after also coming off in the midweek match.
“Maybe it wasn’t a sparkling performance the other night but it was one that was pleasing and positive and we’re through to the next round,” Jones told MUTV. “Middlesbrough have just sacked the manager as well so it will probably be even tougher than what it would have been. But we’ve got more than enough to cope with that. We have strength in depth in this squad and that’s why we need everyone.
“There is always an added incentive for everyone playing Manchester United as it is but, when you sack the manager it’s even more of a boost for them. Especially for the ones who have not been playing in the squad who can force their way into the team and impress. It will be a tough game but we need to be ready for it.”
Jones has played in a couple of unusual roles of late, appearing almost in a midfield position at Chelsea before coming off the bench to perform at left-back, or left wing-back, against Rostov.
“I did a job for the team,” he said of Thursday’s tie. “The manager told me to go out there to try to shore things up and be a bit more defensive minded than Daley because I think he went off with something in his eye.
“[At Chelsea], I was playing in a back three but obviously, when Eden Hazard dropped in, my job was to try to go in and do what I could to try to stop him. He’s such a world-class player and sometimes you have to hold your hands up as he is going to get past you. He can do that to anyone but I thought, against Chelsea, obviously the sending off killed the game but, defensively, we were pretty solid and pretty sound.”
For all the talk of tiredness in the camp, Jones is offering no excuses ahead of the trip to Teesside.
“I feel good,” he asserted. “I had a little lay-off with my foot for a few weeks which was unfortunate as I was on a bit of a roll and a bit of a run but I feel good again. I’m just looking forward to Sunday.
“It’s never easy, those 12 o’clock kick-offs can be good if you win as then you’ve got the rest of the day to celebrate and enjoy it. On the other hand, if you lose, it’s not a nice feeling. You spend the rest of the day mithering about the game and going over it in your mind for the next eight hours. We need to make sure we’re ready for it.
“It will be a difficult game. Middlesbrough are among the teams struggling at the moment but have got good players still. It won’t be easy up there. I think the first 15 minutes will be key. It’s a 12 o’clock kick-off and I’m sure they will be ratting about from the first minute.
“We just need to concentrate on winning. Sunday is massive. We all know that. We all know the importance of the game. I would take us playing badly now and winning games. If you look at all the times we’ve drawn at home when playing so well, and ultimately we drew, it felt like we’d lost. So points are massive at the moment.”