Phil Jones is set to make his return to action for Manchester United after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer confirmed the defender will be in his squad for the EFL Cup tie with West Ham.

The 29-year-old has not played for the Red Devils since January 2020 due to a debilitating knee problem that has dogged him throughout his career.

Jones scored on his last appearance, against Tranmere Rovers in the FA Cup, and opened up on his emotional recovery trail in an interview with the Times this past weekend.

After featuring for United's Under-23s, however, the centre-back is finally ready to make his return to first-team action, starting with Wednesday's clash at Old Trafford.

"I'm so happy for Phil," Solskjaer told MUTV. "He has completed two 90 minutes for the Under-23s, played some minutes behind closed doors and he's got no reaction on his knee.

"He's been working really hard. I've been part of that myself and had the best part of three years, or at least more than two out of three years, and I know what challenges he's been through, mentally, thinking 'will I ever play football again or even be able to walk again and be able to play with the kids in the garden'. 

"He's been so diligent and so professional; no frills, no social media and I'm old school. I like players like that. He just focuses on one thing and gets his head around the challenges and he's back.

"He will be in the squad. It’s a good day for him and for us, and it’s something that he has earned."

This will be the fourth EFL Cup meeting between Man Utd and West Ham, who met in the league on Sunday (United prevailing 2-1 in dramatic circumstances), with the home side progressing in each of the previous three.

West Ham have been knocked out of the competition on six of the last eight occasions when paired with fellow Premier League sides, including on each of the last three in 2017-18 (v Arsenal), 2018-19 (Spurs) and 2020-21 (Everton).

United, however, have lost their last two EFL Cup matches at Old Trafford – though both have come at the semi-final stage against Manchester City. 

Phil Jones has revealed how injury hell left him feeling "the lowest I've ever been" and that his career was "finished" as the Manchester United defender at last closes on a first-team return.

The 29-year-old has not played for the Red Devils since January 2020 due to a debilitating knee problem that has dogged him throughout his career.

First identified during his academy years at Blackburn Rovers, Jones had an operation after Euro 2012 to remove the meniscus in his right knee. He was forced to manage the problem for years, playing at "60 per cent" because he would "do anything for United", even though, by 2016, "any resistance against the knee was just agony".

Jones then recovered fitness during the coronavirus-enforced shutdown last year but, when he had to stop running in training, he sought further treatment that culminated in surgery last August. The centre-back has been battling to recover again in the 14 months since and has now played two matches for United's Under-23s, most recently against Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday.

Retelling the story of his progress and setbacks to the Times, Jones said the moment his knee gave up again last May left him considering whether the fight was worth it.

He said: "I'd lost my mind completely. I'm thinking, 'I'm finished, can't be bothered with all this anymore'. I went straight to the doc and said, 'Enough's enough. I've had too many anti-inflammatories, too many injections, too many close shaves. I need this sorted.'

"It was the lowest I've ever been as a human being. I used to come back [from the training ground] and be in bits. My head was an absolute mess. I'd be in tears. I'd say to [wife] Kaya, 'I don't know what to do'. I remember us both crying.

"She has kept the ship together while I got my s*** together. I feel guilty because she didn't deserve having to deal with me every day and then look after the kids."

Jones, who has just under two years on his contract, was prompted to speak out when former United team-mate Rio Ferdinand described him as a "waste of time" who was blocking a youth player's passage to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's senior side. Solskjaer himself was angered by Ferdinand's comments.

"Listen, the respect I've got is enormous," Jones said of Ferdinand. "I've shared a dressing room with Rio – great professional. Loved playing with him. Great lad, good humour. Learnt so much off him. But what he said was poor. Really poor. 

"I've done my absolute utmost. From tablets, to my diet, to setting up my house so that every time I get back from training I'm sitting in recovery boots and have my ice machine ready. Nobody can say, 'You didn't do enough'.

"I'll fight for United until someone tells me, 'Go somewhere else'."

Jones, who was also heckled in the street while walking with his infant daughters, added: "In this society we're living in at the minute, all the racism and stuff that affects mental health – I'd just say be careful. You don’t know how it's going to affect players: physically, mentally, emotionally. 

"Listen, my problems are not bigger than the problems someone has to deal with in an office, I know that. But they are problems. Footballers have problems like anybody else, and maybe me talking can help players.

"Every footballer has a tag and unfortunately mine is, 'Let's have a laugh at him'. But – and I say this in the nicest possible way – I know who'll have the last laugh. I'm proud of my career and when it finishes and I'm enjoying my life – and by the way I'm super fortunate that I'll be able to do that, because footballers are fortunate – [the keyboard warriors] will still be in their mum's spare bedroom, sipping Diet Pepsi that's flat, eating a Pot Noodle, sitting in their boxers, tweeting."

Jones, who has only played eight times since the start of 2019-20, won the Premier League title during Alex Ferguson's final season at the club and it was a meeting with his old boss that helped to boost him on his journey back to playing.

"He was just unbelievable for me," Jones added. "I went to the premiere of his film with a few players and he came over, we shook hands and then out of the blue he said, 'Hey, you were f****** terrific against Real Madrid away [in 2013]. F****** marking [Cristiano] Ronaldo.'

"It just gave me so much confidence. To be honest, I didn't even watch his premiere, I was just sitting there thinking about his comment, thinking, 'He remembers it... someone of his magnitude remembers that'."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said Rio Ferdinand was "out of order" with his comments on why Phil Jones is still a Manchester United player.

Defender Jones, 29, has not played a Premier League game since the 2-0 win over Burnley on January 22 last year.

Former United star Ferdinand said on his Vibe with Five video that Jones should have been released "ages ago" and suggested he was unfairly keeping youngsters out of the first-team picture by being at the club yet unavailable.

The centre-back has been struggling with long-term injury issues, the most serious of which is a knee problem, but he played his first United game for 18 months in a behind-closed-doors friendly last week – also against Burnley.

Solskjaer, who himself battled a long-term knee problem as a player, explained on Friday why he has not been prepared to rush Jones back into action.

"Phil has had a horrible 18, 19, 20 months and probably a year before that as well with injuries," he said. "I think Rio was a bit, not out of order, he should have called me and asked why Phil hasn't played or why Phil hasn't been here.

"Phil is a no-fuss, get-on-with-it type of guy, and I think that was out of order completely [from Ferdinand]. I know more than anyone how it feels to be injured.

"Phil is still not 30 years of age. Since I came back here, he's battled against his knee injury and he put his body on the line every single training session, every single game. There are a few times we've had to manage him, and he's never done anything but give everything for the club.

"Rio of all should know more than go out and say this. I wanted to say a lot, I've not said a lot about Phil's injury because I protect him, he never does social media, never has to do interviews, just gets his head down, proper professional, no fuss, a family man, and just wants to get back fit.

"I was out for two years in a three-year period with a knee injury and Phil has battled valiantly and I know how Phil has felt. Because you're embarrassed at times coming in, but he has to look after his career and he's now getting back to fitness.

"Now is not the time for me to throw him in. Maybe give him a little more, a month, six weeks and he'll be there. For me as a manager to see he can see light at end of the tunnel, it's great because I've been through the same."

While Jones appears unlikely to leave the club before the transfer window closes, there remains speculation over the future of Jesse Lingard, but Solskjaer seems keen to keep a player who has just earned an England recall.

"I know there's loads of speculation about him, but he's had a very good pre-season; just been picked for England in the squad," he said.

"It's just been unfortunate that he got COVID just before the league started. He would have 100 per cent started the first game [against Leeds United] because of the pre-season he had, so I can see him doing well this season."

Solskjaer also insisted Donny van de Beek will be given his chance to impress this season, even though he did not get off the bench in United's opening two fixtures.

"We started against Leeds with a 5-1 win, [which was] justification for the team selection," he said. "Then we moved to the next one, Scott [McTominay] couldn't play and Nemanja [Matic] has been our best player in pre-season.

"Donny has worked hard, he's done really well, I can't say anything else. He'll get his chances when the season gets going."

Jack Grealish has been linked with a move away from Aston Villa in the past, and Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is a known long-term admirer.

Grealish is currently on holidays after Euro 2020, but talks of a huge transfer to City have not gone away.

Could the Premier League champions be about to make their move?

 

MAN CITY SET TO TABLE GREALISH BID

Manchester City are set to officially commence their move for Aston Villa's Jack Grealish with a £75m bid, claims the Daily Mail.

According to the report, Villa will hold out for £100m for their star England international.

Villa have no desire to sell Grealish for anything less and will know Guardiola is keen to secure his services.

 

ROUND-UP

- Chelsea have opened talks with Sevilla about potentially signing French centre-back Jules Kounde, according to The Guardian. The 22-year-old has a release clause worth €80m (£68.4m).

- Arsenal have enquired with Inter about star forward Lautaro Martinez, reports the Telegraph. It is believed Inter may be willing to sell the Argentina striker for €90m (£77m).

- Eurosport reports that West Ham are interested in a move for Manchester United defender Phil Jones who has struggled with injury in recent times.

- Newcastle are closing in on a deal for Arsenal's Joe Willock, and it could be finalised  within the next 48 hours after his loan stint last season, claims Mail Online.

- Liverpool may sign Wolves' Spanish winger Adama Traore in a cut-price £30m deal, according to the Star.

Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel has been given the all-clear to chase Erling Haaland, while Liverpool are also eyeing a forward.

Borussia Dortmund star Haaland is wanted by numerous European giants, with Manchester City among those reportedly interested.

But Chelsea are also targeting the 20-year-old forward.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA GIVEN ALL-CLEAR TO CHASE HAALAND

Chelsea boss Tuchel has been given the green light to go after Dortmund star Haaland ahead of next season, according to Bild.

Haaland has scored 27 goals in 25 games for Dortmund this season.

Chelsea spent big ahead of 2020-21, but are seemingly eager to land Haaland to strengthen further.

 

ROUND-UP

- Liverpool are apparently eyeing a forward of their own. Diario Gol reports Jurgen Klopp wants Real Madrid forward Rodrygo.

- After starring for Burnley, Nick Pope is linked with a move. LancsLive reports the Premier League club want around £50million for the goalkeeper, who is said to be a target for Tottenham.

- Manchester United continue to be linked with West Ham midfielder Declan Rice. 90min reports United are willing to offer any of Jesse Lingard, Nemanja Matic and Phil Jones to West Ham in their bid to land Rice.

- Staying at Manchester United and the Daily Express reports they may give up on Norwich City right-back Max Aarons due to a £35m asking price.

- With Napoli seventh in Serie A and out of the Europa League after being eliminated by Granada, the pressure is on head coach Gennaro Gattuso. But CalcioMercato reports Gattuso is safe for now despite his side's struggles.

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