Phil Jones out as Manchester United sets sights on Southampton defender Jose Fonte
Injury-prone England defender Phil Jones looks set to be the Manchester United fall guy as Jose Mourinho aims to make Portugal's 32-year-old Euro 2016-winning centre back Jose Fonte the final cut-price piece in his summer signing jigsaw.
Former United hero Mark Hughes has been in touch with his old club, seeking to take Jones on loan to Stoke City.
But Mourinho has signalled he would be prepared to make that a permanent deal if he can prise his latest target Forte from Southampton.
Forte played in Saints' 2-0 defeat by United at Old Trafford on Friday night.
He is under contract at the south coast club until 2018 but Mourinho will have been encouraged by recent developments there.
Despite having little resale value, Fonte has been offered a new improved deal by Saints in a bid to head off United's interest but, significantly, has yet to agree terms.
His current deal is worth around £45,000-a-week but Southampton are offering to push him up with their top earners on about £70,000.
But as a renowned selling club, their determination to hold on to the player could be tested should the bidding get much above £10 million.
Fonte has also been quoted in his native Portugal as saying: "If the interest is there, it is a reason to be flattered to be associated with a club like Manchester United.
"I have a contract with Southampton, and I'm just focused on my work, to make a great season.
"I will not deny that Manchester United is one of the biggest clubs in the world.
"But to be Manchester United's player is a big difference."
His arrival would put the positions of Jones and Argentinian defender Marcus Rojo under threat.
New signing Eric Bailly, Daley Blind and Chris Smalling are all ahead of Jones in the central defensive pecking order.
Jones moved to United in 2011 for a substantial £16.5million fee from Blackburn Rovers, but has seen his promising career continually stalled by injuries and inconsistent form.
The England international made just 10 appearances in the league last season due to injury and managed just 22 the campaign before that.
Jones has turned out 141 times for United in five years, grabbing five goals and has three years left on his current contract at the club.
Rojo and Jones are yet to feature in the league under Mourinho, who already has Chris Smalling, Eric Bailly and Daley Blind as central defenders but believes Fonte, a member of Portugal’s Euro 2016-winning squad, can bring a greater maturity to the position.
Mourinho thinks Fonte can aid the development of Bailly, the 22-year-old Ivory Coast centre-half who was bought for £30m earlier in this window. Bailly has impressed so far but he is young and inexperienced. During Friday night’s 2-0 win over Southampton, Bailly made at least one mistake near David de Gea’s goal that might have led to United conceding.
Bailly and Blind have started United’s two Premier League matches as the central defensive partnership, however Smalling was a late substitute in the win over Saints, having been suspended for the season-opener at Bournemouth.
Mourinho has also talked up the potential of 18-year-old academy graduate Axel Tuanzebe.
Rojo, whom United want to sell, made the bench ahead of Jones for the wins over Leicester and Bournemouth.
Mourinho wants a 26-man squad for the new season and, although it would be a surprise if Jones and Rojo both went, he has ready-made replacements in Fonte and Tuanzebe.
Young United defender Cameron Borthwick-Jackson is wanted by Wolves, currently third in the Championship table and unbeaten after four games.
The 19-year-old signed defender a new contract days after Mourinho’s appointment in May.