Chris Smalling and Phil Jones still have Manchester United futures, manager Jose Mourinho said on Wednesday, despite his reservations about their refusal to play through the pain barrier.
Injuries to Smalling, Jones and Marcos Rojo have left Eric Bailly as United’s only fit senior centre-back and Mourinho has publicly called on the England pair to put their bodies on the line.
But he has conceded they will not be able to face Manchester City in Thursday’s derby at the Etihad Stadium, meaning Dutch utility man Daley Blind will continue to partner Bailly at the back.
“It’s not just about them,” said Mourinho. “It’s about the philosophy and mentality around them.
“They are cautious, cautious, cautious. Just a cautious approach. It’s a profile, it’s the philosophy of work. Just that.
“It’s not just about them and you know we go with the players we have. We have Blind, who played so well the other day (in United’s 2-0 win at Burnley). We have Bailly playing well, really well.
“And we have Axel (Tuanzebe) waiting for an opportunity, we have (Timothy Fosu) Mensah, that in the (Netherlands) under-21 national team played as a central defender. And we go, we go.”
Mourinho clearly feels Smalling, who has a knee injury, and Jones, who suffered a broken toe, are simply acting in keeping with many modern footballers.
When asked if current players are unwilling to put their bodies on the line, he replied: “Professional football at a high level? Yeah.”
But the United manager also said the incident will have no negative bearing on the pair in his eyes.
Indeed, Mourinho hopes the duo still have a part to play in a season in which United are competing for the Europa League and a top-four finish in the Premier League.
“Of course they have,” said Mourinho when asked if they have a future at United. “I hope this season. I hope this season.”
Mourinho is also without Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the remainder of the season and has Juan Mata and Paul Pogba unavailable for the Manchester derby.
But he said opponents will make a mistake if they write United off.
“I think maybe opponents, they look at us with different eyes because we don’t have Zlatan and Paul and Marcos and Mata and Jones and Smalling,” he told reporters at United’s Carrington training base.
“Maybe they look at us with different eyes, but I think they are not stupid, they are not naive and they know that we are going to give them a fight.
“I think the injuries have galvanised the players. I think the boys that are available, I think they have a great feeling. They know that they are important, that they can be important.
“Let’s follow the example of Wayne (Rooney) and (Anthony) Martial. They came to a game that we need really to win (against Burnley) and they gave more than expected.
“Wayne, I didn’t think (it) was possible to go for 90 minutes and he did.”