Manchester United's Phil Jones: FA Cup win would show right direction
MANCHESTER, England -- Manchester United are set to make attempts to sign Chelsea midfielder Willian and Tottenham Hotspur defender Toby Alderweireld this summer, sources have told ESPN FC.
Jose Mourinho was keen to bring Willian, 29, to Old Trafford last year and, according to sources, the Brazil international was open to the move.
Chelsea, however, refused to sell and Mourinho was forced to turn his attention to Inter Milan's Ivan Perisic before finally bolstering his forward line with the arrival of Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal in January.
Since the Chile forward's arrival, Mourinho has been adamant he will not look to sign another attacker before next season.
But doubts about the future of Anthony Martial, who is wanted by Juventus after finding first-team opportunities limited by increased competition from Sanchez, has led to United revisiting the possibility of signing Willian, a player held in high regard by Mourinho after their time together at Stamford Bridge.
United, though, must first convince Chelsea to sell and, after the backlash from fans following the sale of Nemanja Matic last summer, it is not a given.
Meanwhile, sources have told ESPN FC that Tottenham are resigned to losing Alderweireld this summer with the Belgium centre-back so far refusing to sign an extension to his contract.
Injury limited the 29-year-old to just 14 Premier League starts this season and with Tottenham ready to cash in, sources have told ESPN FC there is hope at United they can push though a deal.
Sources have told ESPN FC that Danny Rose, another player of interest to Mourinho, could also leave Tottenham this summer after falling behind Ben Davies in the pecking order.
Rose, from Doncaster, is keen to move back to the north of England and the 27-year-old is one of a number of left-backs being considered by Mourinho, alongside Alex Sandro at Juventus, Kieran Tierney at Celtic and Aaron Martin at Espanyol.
Sources have told ESPN FC that Mourinho's priority this summer remains a central midfielder to replace Michael Carrick, who retired on Sunday.
Fred at Shakhtar Donetsk, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic at Lazio and Jean Michael Seri at Nice are all possibilities.
United could yet be forced to sign two midfielders before the start of next season if Marouane Fellaini decides his future lies away from Old Trafford.
Rob is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.
If ever a week encapsulated a team's season, it was the one that contained Chelsea's last three fixtures.
An imperfect but hard-fought and deserved win against a high-flying side in Liverpool under the blazing spring sunshine was immediately followed by a frustrating draw with Huddersfield and a staggering non-performance in the hammering at Newcastle. With two goals scored and four conceded across the three games, that familiar sight of a blunt attack combined with a porous defence was in evidence once again to undermine any previous good work.
And yet, the seemingly calamitous results against Huddersfield and Newcastle might just do Chelsea a favour in the medium to long term. The run of four consecutive Premier League wins had raised hopes of an unlikely top four finish as the Blues closed the gap on their rivals. But to achieve that either Liverpool or Tottenham had to drop sufficient points in their remaining games. With no away fixtures remaining for either side, this was always going to be a long shot. Liverpool, for example, were never going to fail to beat a Brighton team already safe from relegation.
Had Chelsea extended their winning run to six games and then capped that by lifting the FA Cup this coming Saturday, it would have been a fair bet that there would have been an almighty clamour from the supporters urging Roman Abramovich to keep hold of Antonio Conte. Now, even if Manchester United are vanquished at Wembley, such intense exhortations are unlikely to occur.
That is not to say that Conte has lost the support of the vast majority of fans. As a title-winning manager, he is held in huge affection by the Stamford Bridge faithful and will always be afforded the fondest of welcomes on any future return to west London. But the fractious nature of this season -- especially since the turn of the year -- has been seen before at the club and it doesn't end well.
In the 2006-07 season, Jose Mourinho, the most successful manager in the history of the club, fell out spectacularly with Abramovich. The appointment of Avram Grant as director of football was made to seemingly undermine the influence of Portuguese, who was perceived as becoming too big for his boots by the Chelsea hierarchy.
The vanity purchases of Andrei Shevchenko and Michael Ballack were completed without consulting the manager, forcing Mourinho to change a system that had won the previous two Premier League titles with unrelenting dominance. They subsequently finished second. An FA Cup win a week later saw Mourinho grandstand on the Wembley steps, signalling how many trophies he had now won for the club in just three years. An uneasy truce was forced and, rather than go their separate ways, both parties agreed to give it another go. Six weeks into the following season, the relationship had broken down beyond repair and Mourinho was gone leaving Grant to steer the listing ship.
Conte might not have won nearly as much as Mourinho but his achievements in his two seasons at the club are still mightily impressive. Dragging a talented but confidence-sapped squad up from 10th position to first was extraordinary in itself. But it was even more difficult when considering it was his first post outside of Italy and he was up against the likes of Mourinho at Manchester United and Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, both of whom had spent vast sums to enhance their squads. He has reached two FA Cup finals and might yet win one of them if his team actually turn up at Wembley on Saturday.
Even if he does add to his trophy collection this weekend, it should not paper over the fissures that have developed between Conte and the club grandees that have only grown wider over the course of the campaign. Even if the supporters do urge a reconciliation, just like an unhappy couple choosing to stay together for the sake of the children, it will only serve to delay the inevitable and force an even more painful split later down the line.
Instead, this Saturday should be used as a punctuation point for both the club and its manager. Ideally, it will be an exclamation mark. A win would be the perfect way to sign off for Conte, not least at it would come at the expense of Mourinho, one of his most voluble antagonists.
But it would also be the ideal moment to say goodbye to the fans, receiving the acclaim for a famous win against a major rival rather than suffering in the wake of the frustration and anger that greeted the results against Huddersfield and Newcastle. It would be the very least that this Premier League-winning manager deserves.
Phil is one of ESPN's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @PhilLythell.
MANCHESTER, England -- Phil Jones has told ESPN FC that lifting the FA Cup this weekend will not make it a successful season for Manchester United, but will show they are moving in the right direction.
United face Chelsea at Wembley after finishing second in the Premier League behind runaway champions Manchester City.
It is a chance to claim a third trophy in two years to add to their highest league finish since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, but Jones says expectations at Old Trafford are so high that only top prizes will do.
"Successful for Manchester United is winning the Premier League, adding another trophy and having another good cup run in another one," the defender said.
"I think finishing second and winning the FA Cup would probably be satisfactory for Manchester United, but we always want to win more.
"It means we are moving in the right direction. We will always have our critics because we are Manchester United. It has been like that since we have been here.
"We can go out and win. It won't be easy. It is a cup game. Chelsea are a good team, but I believe we have the quality and strength in depth to go out and win the game."
Jones is hoping to end his United final hoodoo on Saturday.
He was an unused substitute for the 2016 FA Cup final against Crystal Palace under Louis van Gaal and was sidelined with injury for last season's EFL Cup final.
Jones returned to the squad for the Europa League final in May but remained on the bench as United beat Ajax 2-0 before being caught up in controversy when he was accused by UEFA of failing to comply with doping test regulations because he wanted to pay tribute to victims of the Manchester Arena bombing.
A subsequent two-game ban ruled him out of the Super Cup against Real Madrid in August.
"The one under Van Gaal, I wasn't playing, so that was OK -- not OK, but reasonable," the 26-year-old said.
"The Europa League final, I got a daft, silly injury at a stupid time. I thought I wouldn't be fit for the final, then it came and I was, but the manager is probably thinking I had only just come back, could he trust my fitness in a game of that magnitude.
"You are disappointed but at the same time, you understand.
"Hopefully I have a chance of starting in the final. I don't know. It is the manager's decision. But hopefully I have put my name forward and will be one of the names on the team sheet."
Jones is in pole position to start alongside Chris Smalling at Wembley after the pair nullified Tottenham striker Harry Kane in the semifinal.
Smalling was left out of the squad against Watford on the final day of the season, while Jones was on the bench.
But with competition from Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelof and Marcos Rojo, Jones is not taking anything for granted.
"There are places up for grabs all over the pitch," he said. "The manager has already said that a couple of weeks ago. I don't think any name is a given on the team sheet.
"Everyone is fighting for positions for every game, not just the FA Cup final."
Manager Jose Mourinho gave his players the day off on Monday before they returned to Carrington on Tuesday to begin preparing for the final.
Jones will not know until the day of the game whether he will start against Olivier Giroud or Alvaro Morata, and said he faced a nervous wait.
"Do you get the team sheet an hour before kick off? About an hour, an hour and a half before that we find out the team," he said. "All together in a meeting the team sheet will go up. You are hoping you are playing, hoping you are starting. "But it is an FA Cup final. If you are not, you are obviously disappointed but you have been a part of the whole season, so everyone will rally round the lads who are playing and wants them to do well.
"When I was younger I used to get really nervous before games, so much so, you are almost throwing up before games. That was five or six years ago. Now I am used to it. I know what to expect. It is exciting. It is an FA Cup final. It is not every day you get to play in one of them."
Rob is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.