Manchester United and England footballer Phil Jones has made it no secret that he is most comfortable playing for both club and country at the heart of defense. Yet he often finds himself playing at right-back or central midfield for the Red Devils.
Jones, who joined Manchester United from Blackburn Rovers in 2011 for a fee in the region of £16.5 million, provides the missing piece of the midfield puzzle for the Scotsman.
Since his arrival at Old Trafford, the 21-year-old has featured in the centre of defense, as a right-back and in the midfield role, with former manager Sir Alex Ferguson crediting his versatility, which provided him with various positions in which to play the Englishman.
But Jones is keen to nail down a fixed position.
“When I came, it was always the plan to establish myself as a centre-back and I hope to do it this season. If the manager keeps faith in me, I’ll make sure I can cement a spot there and get a good run there.”
But is that his best position for Manchester United? Maybe not.
Phil Jones is an individual with an immense physical presence and an imposing, good understanding of the game. He’s highly confident and has stamina, all of which make him extremely versatile. While he may have the desired attributes to pose a commanding figure in front of his keeper, he is better off protecting the back four.
While Jones does not necessarily possess flair and finesse, he is incredible effective in closing down spaces and breaking the opposition’s play, something that has been missing since Fletcher managed to fill that gap after Roy Keane’s absence. However, due to Darren Fletcher’s chronic stomach problems, Ferguson tried Cleverley and Anderson in that position, with no success until Carrick assumed that responsibility.
For seasons on end, Carrick has been Manchester United’s unsung midfield hero, playing box-to-box consistently. But you cannot rely on one player all season. Thus, the purchase of Fellaini, who is yet to find his feet at United.
However, it was against Arsenal that we saw Phil Jones put in one of his most impressive performances of the season thus far. He harrowed the opposition, closed down spaces, pressured and broke the attacks of his opponents with unmatched consistency. And when Nemanja Vidic didn’t return for the second half after a head injury, fans and the manager alike got the chance to make a comparison of Jones’ performance in midfield and at centre-back. While he did a good job in shutting out his opponents in defense, he was much more influential in the middle of the park as he made interceptions and several forays into Arsenal’s half.
For seasons now, United have lacked a plan B when things went wrong in midfield. But with Jones in the middle of park, they need not worry too much about when Fletcher is fit enough to play, or when Fellaini will settle in the side. Jones, rotating with Carrick, is reason for optimism. For all United’s attacking quality, it is the holding-midfield position that seems the weak link and is porous enough to allow a lot of dangerous play through that channel.
Moyes calls the shots, and he has been pleased with what Jones has produced so far. With him imperious performance against the Gunners, Moyes is likely to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor and shun the opportunity to have Jones at centre back, instead opting him to play the midfield role for the Red Devils, and quite rightly so.
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