An awful lot has been made of Manchester United's lack of reliable, consistent performers in their defensive line and their group of young centre-backs have been brushed off as inadequate. Everyone in the footballing world is calling on United to make a marquee defensive signing, but is that really what they need?
Phil Jones may be young and he may have a constant expression of horrified bewilderment stretched across his big, rectangular face, but according to statistical research done by CIES (via Opta), he is the best under-23 centre-back in Europe's top 5 leagues.
CIES give each player a score depending on their Key Performance Indicators (listed below):
Shooting: ability to take advantage of goal opportunities through accurate shooting
Chance creation: ability to put teammates in a good position to score
Take on: ability to create dangerous situations by successfully challenging opponents
Distribution: ability to keep a hold on the game through efficient passing
Recovery: ability to minimise goal opportunities for opponents through proficient interception work
Rigour: ability to minimise goal opportunities for opponents through robust duelling
Injury is something that has plagued Jones' career so far, but if he can stay fit for longer periods and actually get the game time he needs, the sky is the limit. Maybe Sir Alex Ferguson wasn't too far off the mark after all.
Jones' apparent potential, Smalling's improvement and Rojo's undoubted ability begs the question why United are so determined on spending big when it comes to a centre-back. If they are looking to recruit a defender, the main criteria should be experience and leadership (Hummels being the obvious choice), for that is what they lack.