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Phil Jones: Champions League exit last season was tough
The Red Devils wrap up this term's group programme against Romanian side CFR Cluj at Old Trafford on Wednesday in the happy position of knowing their status as a seeded team for the last 16 draw later in the month is already assured. It is a marked contrast to last term, when United lost their final game in Basle, and found themselves turfed into the Europa League.
"It was a bitter pill to swallow," said Jones. "For a club of Manchester United's stature it was not an easy thing to deal with."
As a newcomer to Old Trafford, Jones had not been part of the squad which had reached three of the previous four Champions League finals, but he could tell from the devastation in the visitors' dressing room that night in Switzerland just what an impact it had.
He added: "This club is used to being in semi-finals and finals of the Champions and even winning it, so it was not a nice feeling to get knocked out of the Champions League the way we did."
Sir Alex Ferguson's response was to abandon his policy of resting key men for early group games and instead approach the tournament with added focus.
The response was just what the Scot wanted as his side reeled off four-straight wins to secure their last-16 berth even before the trip to Galatasaray a fortnight ago.
"We've bounced back incredibly well this season," said Jones. "The lads have played some terrific stuff in the Champions League games that I've seen. Hopefully we can kick on and go as far as we can."
By Wednesday night, United will know who they can get in the knock-out round draw in Nyon on December 20. And already it appears the Red Devils are going to be facing a tough opponent, with Real Madrid, AC Milan, Juventus and Paris St Germain presently amongst the runners-up.
Not that Jones sees any point in looking too far ahead. He said: "There are no bad teams in the Champions League. It doesn't matter who you get it's always going to be a very difficult game, home and away. We are just looking forward to being in the knock-out stages and are relishing the challenge."
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