Phil Jones says testing himself against Manchester United's wealth of attacking talent day in and day out has helped him improve his game.
United’s flair going forward has been on show for all to see this season, with the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial in fantastic form from the off.
That trio have six Premier League goals between them this term, while Paul Pogba has added a further two, so spare a thought for the defenders – like Jones – who have to deal with them in training on a regular basis.
However, the 25-year-old centre-back has insisted that he enjoys the challenge of facing world-class players in training, and he feels playing against them has helped him to perform better in match situations.
“As a defender, you want to play against the best strikers in the world,” Jones told us recently. “You want to test yourself and prove to people that you’re good enough to do that.
“Playing against these players in training every day makes me a better player. It gives me a better understanding of how to deal with these types of players when they’re on the opposing team.”
The England international put in another solid performance for his country in their 2-1 win against Slovakia on Monday night, leaving the Three Lions on the brink of qualification for the World Cup.
Team-mate Rashford also shone at Wembley as he provided the assist for Eric Dier's equaliser, before netting a brilliant winner just before the hour-mark. And Jones believes only great things lie ahead for the young striker.
“He’s a great lad off the pitch and, on it, he’s a special talent,” Jones added. “He’s already special but he’ll be a world-beater one day, he’s that good.
“He’s so quick, sharp, technically gifted, two-footed and a nightmare for defenders. You’ve seen it this season already, he’s given defenders nightmares. He’s an Academy product and players from the youth system have done great over the last few years. He’s a special player and we’re lucky to have him.”
One of the features of United’s impressive early season form has been Jones and Eric Bailly’s uncompromising partnership in the heart of the defence, which has seen Jose Mourinho’s side keep three clean sheets in all three league games so far.
Speaking about his defensive partner, Jones declared: “He's adapted really well. He’s a great lad in the dressing room, he’s a talented footballer, he’s strong and he’s quick.
“He had a good first season and hopefully he can do even better this season. He’s a funny guy and the lads bounce off him, so we’re happy to have him here.”
Jones joined United from Blackburn Rovers in 2011 as a 19-year-old, and, since then, has blossomed from a young talent into one of the top defenders in the league.
The centre-back was keen to emphasise that there have been many figures who have helped his development since he became a Red, past and present.
“I’ve played with so many good players. In my position, the likes of Rio [Ferdinand] and Nemanja [Vidic],” he said. “Giggsy [Ryan Giggs] was a great help for me when he was at the club too.
“And, in terms of managers, I’ve had a lot of help, but that’s United in a nutshell. It’s not just one player or one manager, everyone chips in and that’s the way it should be. That’s a team, and that’s what we are.
"I'm learning a lot off our current manager. We know exactly what he expects of us and he knows the players inside and out. We're all enjoying it."
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