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How will this Manchester United newcomer find his role in the team?

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Since his summer move to Old Trafford for around £17million, Phil Jones seems to have settled well and had a decent run in the first team. The fans can take great encouragement from his form and will undoubtedly be left praising the dealings of Sir Alex in the transfer window. The 19 year old defender was somewhat thrown in at the deep end with a decent amount of game time under his belt in the early stages of the season. But the question remains as to how he will be used in the future and will he cement a specific role in the team.

If a survey was done, Man United fans would probably say that Jones’ best position is centre-back, where he has played the majority of games. However, Ferguson has shown a tendency to experiment and use him in different positions, doing different jobs. There was a suggestion that he would play just in front of the defence against Liverpool, but he ended up playing even further forward in central midfield. The game wasn’t the most open or exciting, particularly in the first half, mainly because the midfield was tight and combative, with Jones presumably being given clear instructions to contain and keep Charlie Adam occupied and under control. Jones never really had much opportunity to impact the game in that position and sometimes struggled to facilitate attacks. He did look much like a centre-back playing too far up the pitch.

He reminds me of Ferdinand when he started off his career at United. Often he picks up the ball deep in his own half and looks to move forward and distribute to someone further up-field. The characteristic of storming up the pitch with the ball from a defensive position, made apparent in Jones’ play first against Bolton when he went on a great run into the area to eventually allow Rooney to score, shows ambition to his play. In that game he played at right-back and, although not really a conventional wing-back, looked to get forward, more comfortably than in centre-midfield. However, this can sometimes compromise the team, when Jones get left out of position and the move breaks down, leaving them slightly vulnerable against the counter-attack.

It’s no surprise that he was able to make it into the starting line-up and get some good performances to his name this season, because he is undoubtedly a talented young player. He’s been helped by the fact that United’s fist choice centre-backs, Ferdinand and Vidic, are particularly injury prone. When they have those two back fit, as well as Evans, it may be a time where he has to make do with a place on the bench or in rotation. However, Ferguson might want to deploy him down the right or in midfield. Although it is clearly good to give him regular game time, I think that he needs to stick to one position for now and not be lured into the role of utility man like, for example John O’Shea was used as for a number of years.

To be completely watertight, defences need to work as a unit, and if that is being broken up each week then it becomes more difficult to defend against the better sides. The centre-back pairing in particular need time on the pitch week in week out to develop a partnership and good understanding, like Rio and Vidic seemed to get over the past few seasons. I think that if Vidic could stay fit for long enough to play a good 15-20 games alongside Jones, this would do a huge amount of good for the long-term structure and performance of United’s back-line. But then this leaves Ferdinand and Evans on the sidelines and may limit them to European and cup fixtures, not an easy decision to make but one that may be around the corner.

All in all, the future looks bright for this up-and-coming English youngster, who has put in performances showing character and ability above his age. However, he might need to start putting in consistent performances in his one preferred positional role to secure his inclusion in the starting eleven at Manchester United and build for a successful future at the club.

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1 comment

  • timbo says:

    Jones is physically and psychologically best suited to a role as a defensive midfielder, where he could become a world beater in one of the game’s rarest positions of high quality. He doesn’t have the outright speed to comfortably mark speedy wingers at right back, and more importantly he lacks the height to be a complete footballer as a centre-back, especially in this day and age. Given these aspects, throw in his fine defensive qualities, and consider his penchant for darting runs forward, and he would make a perfect midfield anchor. He simply needs time and commitment to the position, so don’t judge him by the one game he’s put in so far for United.

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