Having finished their league campaign a whopping 19 points adrift of Pep Guardiola‘s record-breaking Manchester City, United have one final chance to win some silverware when they face Chelsea at Wembley on Saturday.
Defender Jones admits just lifting the FA Cup for the second time in three seasons could only be deemed “satisfactory” for the club, yet he also feels it would imbue Jose Mourinho‘s squad with confidence ahead of the start of the next league campaign.
“It will be our last game of the season – if you win that, you finish on a positive note and you go into the next season feeling confident, ready to go and ready to battle again for the title,” the England international said.
“I really don’t think we’re far away. In another season we might have been challenging. Sometimes you’ve got to hold your hands up and say that Man City have done ever so well to win the league this year, take nothing away from them.
“They’ve competed well in every game and won games where you’re thinking they probably would have drawn. I think winning the FA Cup and going into next season will be good for us.”
There has been much debate over whether or not United have progressed in Mourinho’s second term. Though their league position improved from sixth to second, they were EFL Cup and Europa League winners in the Portuguese’s debut campaign.
On reaching a third final in two seasons, Jones added: “We’re moving in the right direction.
“We’ll always have our critics because we’re Man United and ultimately it’s been like that since I’ve been here, but it shows that we’re moving in the right direction under him.
“(A) successful (season) for Man United is winning the Premier League and another trophy, and probably having a good cup run in another one.
“I think finishing second and winning the FA Cup probably would be satisfactory for Man United but we always want to win more.
“This club is so used to winning things. It is part of the history of this club. To keep adding to that is important. We cannot stand still. We can’t just let the FA Cup final pass.”
United do have an excellent record against the other top-six Premier League clubs, having beaten them all since late February.
In three of those victories, including the one over Chelsea at Old Trafford and the FA Cup semi-final success over Tottenham, Mourinho’s side had been trailing too.
“I think we’ve done very well against the top six – we’ve competed well, we’ve battled well and I think in every game we’ve deserved to win,” Jones said.
“There’s not a game where you think, ‘It could have gone either way’, I think we’ve deserved to win the games. Again, that shows the direction that we’re moving in and the progression that we’re making.
“We need to keep doing that and winning the FA Cup final will be another step in the right direction.”
Faria, Mourinho’s long-serving number two, is stepping down from his role at Old Trafford at the end of the season.
For the time being it seems that Faria, 42, intends to take a break but Mourinho believes he has the credentials to be a manager himself. Indeed, he has even been linked with the upcoming vacancy at Arsenal.
Asked if this felt like the end of an era, Mourinho told MUTV: “Yes, but maybe one day we are playing against each other in the Premier League.
“If that moment arrives, I will be a very proud guy because this man came to me when he was a kid 17 years ago. So, if that happens, I will be a very proud guy.”
Mourinho and Faria have one more game together as United face Chelsea in the FA Cup final at Wembley next Saturday.
United wrapped up their Premier League campaign on Sunday with a 1-0 win over Watford at Old Trafford.
Marcus Rashford scored the only goal but the main highlight of a largely unremarkable game was the farewell appearance of Michael Carrick.
Veteran midfielder Carrick, 36, is hanging up his boots to take up a position on Mourinho’s backroom staff – although that move was planned before news of Faria’s departure was announced at the weekend.
Initially Mourinho intends to continue without a designated assistant but he hopes Carrick can grow into that role. He already has no doubt he will be able to call on Carrick’s expertise when it comes to identifying new players, particularly in his old midfield role.
Mourinho said: “I have to make the decisions but of course my assistants have an opinion.
“He has, in relation to his position, a different vision than any other opinion that we can have from any scout or any analyst department.”
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Mourinho handed Carrick his 464th and final appearance in the 1-0 victory over Watford and the midfielder was given both a pre-match guard of honour and a standing ovation as he left the pitch at Old Trafford.
He will join the backroom team in the summer but not, for now at least, as a like-for-like heir to Rui Faria.
Mourinho has decided he cannot adequately replace his right-hand man of the past 17 years and will instead redesign his staff with no official deputy.
It is clear, though, that the seat is being kept warm for the five-time title-winner. “I think it will be Michael Carrick in the future,” he said.
“When he has his badges, when he has his pro licence, when he makes the bridge from player to assistant.
“I don’t think it (an immediate appointment) makes sense when Rui is leaving after 17 years. I have nobody in the world of football ready to be assistant manager. Nobody.”
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) May 13, 2018
Explaining his vision for next term, the Portuguese said: “Moving forward I will organise my coaching staff in a way where the assistant manager figure doesn’t exist.
“I’m going to have coaches, assistant coaches, I’m going to have fitness coaches and a structure where they have specialists in different areas. My Analysts.
“I’m going to bring some people in that until this moment you (the press) didn’t come up with the name yet.”
Carrick was full of praise for Mourinho, and said: “I need to thank Jose for giving me the opportunity. It is an unbelievable opportunity for me. I look forward to working with him and learning from him.
“He’s one of the best. He’ll teach me some things and we’re going to have some success in the near future, I’m certain of that.”
Addressing the fans, Carrick added: “I’d like to say a massive thank you to everyone for their support over the years, it’s been unbelievable.
“I have a lot of memories to cherish, some I’ll never forget, especially of this place. It’s an amazing place to play football. It’s the greatest club in the world and I thank you for your support over the last 12 years.”
While Carrick might be hanging up his boots, his United team-mates still have the FA Cup final against Chelsea to prepare for.
Mourinho made nine changes to the side which beat the Hornets thanks to a Marcus Rashford tap-in made by Carrick’s long pass and laid on by Juan Mata’s selflessness.
Yet there was no Anthony Martial in the squad, despite Mourinho’s prior indication the Frenchman would start.
Reports emerged that he had been seen driving away from the stadium in the hours before kick-off but Mourinho revealed a knee injury had kept him out.
“He’s injured,” he said. “Injured Friday in a training session, yesterday couldn’t train. He had treatment in the morning in the training ground and stayed away.”
Mourinho confirmed striker Romelu Lukaku would return to training on Tuesday following ankle trouble, good news for the cup final, but was less certain about Martial’s situation.
“We are waiting for the doctor,” he told MUTV. “But if it’s impossible to play today, I have my doubts.”
Watford boss Javi Gracia only arrived in January but faces an uncertain future at a club who have become known for their hire-and-fire policy.
Asked if he would be at Vicarage Road next season he was upbeat.
“Yes, I think so,” was his brief assessment. “I’ve already spoken many times with the owner, I can feel he is ambitious and he is looking forward for next season.
“I’m sure the owner will try to improve the level of the squad and the team, try to improve the position in the table.”
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