Its been a blinding start to the season. The football we have seen has been stunning. Whether it be an early goal of the season contender by Nani kid, or the fact that we have the luxury of having both Rio and Vida injured….and it not making a blind bit of difference.
The defence has started as well as the attack has. Chris Smalling is looking every bit an international class talent, and Jonny Evans seems to have rediscovered the verve that made us all look at him during his days at Sunderland on loan, and his early form in a Red shirt. But it’s arguable to state that the headline stealer has been the boy-man from Preston that we picked up in a wee multi-million pound deal from Blackburn Rovers.
Philip Jones has been on many peoples radars in the North West since about 2003, where he impressed as a schoolboy. What nobody knew back then would be how that boy would grow into the defensive version of Wayne Rooney: A youngster with the body and power of a thirty year old! Jones’ uber-maturity in both physicality and mentality has shot him to early stardom and treads as a cult figure with The Faithful already.
Those who had not seen or heard of Jones until about a year ago can be forgiven for wondering who we had signed when we dished out £16 million for the lad. Most of these fans had no idea of Jones technical capability. They had heard the Vidic like stories of him wrestling with lions..your typical hardman myth that likes to manifest itself in this new digital age. But none of these fans knew that the boy could pass. That he can run. Head. Cross the ball. Has two good feet……………The LOT.Very quick the MUFC worldwide fanbase has been turned on to his talent…and if he can stay fit (often an issue for teenage footballers) you can only see him becoming a mainstay for many years to come.
But there is a question over where he should play. Yes he’s a top defender, but could he be an antidote for our midfield?
Firstly on this id like to state that Jones is on record as saying he wants to play in defence. That is all well and good. All players have a preference and it is their right to acknowledge that. It is no secret that United’s midfield could well be our Achilles heel this year. There’s a lot of future faith in the talents of Paul Pogba and Tom Cleverley, and the ongoing project that is Anderson. But this confidence is really bought on faith rather than alot else. Yes, all three of them are outstanding. And yes, Clev and Ando have made a fabulous start in terms of a partnership this season. But seeing Ando’s brain go AWOL against Chelsea got me thinking…thinking that what options have United truly got after you discount the kids? Carrick? Fletch? Park and Giggsy? You can argue that Park is more of a wide midfielder. That Giggs is only months away from the end of his career. That Michael Carrick gets vertigo when he goes past the half way line. And that Fletcher still has long-term fitness issues that he must conquer to be considered weekly. All four have been great servants to the cause…but do we have a better option staring us in the face?
Jones has played midfield more than the soothsayers would want you to believe. The lad has only played 47 career games, so any statistic about how he played at Blackburn when used in the middle of the park will be almost useless (and yes I know he played in central midfield the day we beat Blackburn 7-1) ..What you have to do is look at his attributes, and then marry them with the weaknesses we have.
United lack a dynamic force in the centre. Fletcher is a gusto type of player, but he’s not ‘proper hard’….There’s always the consideration that United have never played with an out-and-out destroyer in midfield (Keane only became this in his very latter years as the miles piled on the clock) But in 2007 Owen Hargreaves was signed for a specific reason…and that was to give us a Rolls Royce engine in that part of the pitch. Now Hargreaves’ story is one to already try and forget, consigned to wanton memory banks. During his injury spell United trotted along nicely. But two things have changed since then. Paul Scholes is no longer the brain of the middle. And United have adopted this season a less pragmatic, and more dynamic approach. It’s unrealistic to think that Cleverley and Anderson can carry this dynamism all season, and that they will need a player in there that can both tackle and pass…and offer them that engine that they will need to carry off their flair game, rather than just the screening capabilities of a Carrick.
Rio and Vidic are not far away now. Smalling is looking every bit first choice right-back for the foreseeable future (The DaSilvas are now playing catch up) …All this means that we could see Jones planted unnecessarily on the bench…but I doubt that will happen. The one thing that jumped out against Chelsea is that a Jones with an Anderson….or in future with Cleverley….would be an amazing pairing (or even just as a tactical rotation when needed) Jones isn’t your run of the mill defender. That being…..that he has no limitations as to where he can play. I can see him as a modern-day Bryan Robson. Robbo wasnt the biggest guy in the world. But he would run through brick walls to get what he wanted. Jones has that mentality and mobility. He could easily become a legend.
So I hope Fergie plays the lad soon in a position that I think is now more of an inevitability rather than a luxurious option. Eventually he may end up as Vidic’s long-term replacement, as Smalling is to Rio, but the time to make use of his ability is now. Our midfield is fragile and we need to give it some steel…
And we are lucky to have possibly the best teenager of his type in the world.
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