Hatred for Manchester United has driven team on after difficult start to the season, reveals Phil Jones

People want us to lose because we have won the league so much

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The Manchester United defender Phil Jones has said that his team-mates have been motivated by the relish with which rivals have greeted their indifferent start to the season, claiming that many in the Premier League want the defending champions to fail.

Jones was excellent for United in their 1-0 victory over Arsenal on Sunday, both in midfield before the break and then as a replacement for Nemanja Vidic in the centre of defence in the second half. He was cut above the eye during the game but is expected to report today to join up with Roy Hodgson’s England squad at St George’s Park for the friendlies against Chile and Germany.

“People want us to fail because we have won the league so many times,” Jones said. “United won the league long before I was here. Everyone hates the best clubs, it is as simple as that. We enjoy that. We relish the test thrown at us week in, week out.

“It proves when people doubt us we are more than capable of standing up for ourselves and proving to people that is why we were champions last season. We weren’t champions for nothing. We thoroughly deserved all the points we got last season. This is a step in the right direction, going into a busy period.

“It would have been difficult [to have won the league had they lost to Arsenal], but look at the season before last when we were a long way clear of Manchester City. They turned it around. Anything is possible in football. You could never write us off. But full credit to the lads. Everyone put in a shift and dug deep. We thoroughly deserved the three points.

“The gaffer [David Moyes] set us up in a certain shape all week. He went round individual players and prepared us really well. It has shown that has worked.”

It is a curious feature of Jones’ international career that, in eight caps, for only six of the 490 minutes he has spent on the pitch has he played at centre-back – the position originally regarded as his best. At Old Trafford on Sunday it will have been his second-half performance in particular that caught the watching Hodgson’s eye.

Jones has played there once for England, six minutes at the end of the friendly against Scotland in August as a replacement for Phil Jagielka. Previously he had featured as a right-back, most notably on his debut against Montenegro in the Euro 2012 qualifier in Podgorica in October 2011 and against Norway in one of the warm-up games for a tournament at which he did not figure.

Otherwise he has been shunted around the midfield, although he has played there in some big games for England. He was in the team for the wins over Spain and Sweden two years ago and then again in the draw against Brazil in the Maracana in June. In his two other substitute’s performances, against the Netherlands last year and the Republic of Ireland in May, he has come on at right-back.

Yet Moyes has chosen to play him at centre-half this season: against Liverpool in the Capital One Cup, Real Sociedad in the Champions League and Sunderland, Stoke City and Southampton in the Premier League. It begs the question whether the England manager will be tempted to see whether Jones is worth a run in the centre of defence in the two forthcoming friendlies against Chile on Friday and Germany four days later.

Hodgson has picked nine defenders, five of whom are specialist full-backs and two of whom – Gary Cahill and Jagielka – are centre-halves. The final two are Chris Smalling and Jones, suggesting that the latter may get some more time in central defence.