Manchester United's midfield is ageing and average; they need a box-to box player and Phil Jones could and should be that man
Phil Jones had a poor game on his return to Ewood Park last night, the game often bypassed him completely and it was no surprise to see him subbed close to the hour mark for Giggs. Some might say his recent drop in form is due to tiredness or due to him being asked to play in a number of different positions leading to inconsistency and confusion as to his best role.
I have no doubt that he is United's future in the middle of the park; he has all the attributes to be a great box to box midfielder, the kind that is becoming a rarity in the game when all the top teams are looking for an out and out holding man similar to the de Jongs and Mikels or midfield maestros like Modric and Silva. Its rare to see a box to box midfielder such as an in-his-prime Roy Keane in a top team now. On his day you used to see Keano bust up an oppositions attack then arrive late in the penalty area for one of our own. Jones has all the ability in his locker to do such a thing; he's as physical as a bull when running with the ball, he can break up moves and he gets up and down the pitch more than any central midfielder I have seen in the last 5 years.
So why has his formed dipped recently? Because he's 20 years old! It doesn't take a genius to work out that younger players have a tendency to be inconsistent and that’s just what he is. He not positionally aware enough to play as a holding midfielder or a centre back; it's in his nature to break forward with the ball and that’s why he looks better off at right back but even that’s a waste of his potential. Look at it this way, finally Johnny Evans has stepped up and although Ferdinand looks ageing he is trying to adapt his game; Smalling has potential and there is still Vidic all be it crippled until the end of the season. In the centre of the park our options are limited both currently and in the future. Man Utd's best all round midfielder (Fletcher) is out indefinitely and Giggs and Scholes are legends who are currently getting by on that word alone. Ji Sung Park has watched too many games pass him by this season whilst chasing the ball around like a South Korean Terrier, Anderson's injury proneness and potential are both worrying and you can't tout Cleverly as our future hope just because he had a good half against Man City in the Community Shield. Dare I say Thank God 'side pass' Michael Carrick is finally coming into his own this season and is being much less anti-Rui Costa. The fact is we didn’t sign a Modric or a Sneijder in the summer so we haven't got that world class guile; what we do have is a raw powerful unit of a youngster who is probably going to be a future England and Man Utd captain.
he has all the attributes to be a great box to box midfielder, the kind that is becoming a rarity in the game
If Man Utd are going to play a 4-3-3 for the rest of the season then Jones has to be in the middle. You can't play a Carrick/Giggs/Scholes combination in the middle and get away with it often. There's just not enough legs in there to drive the team forward; yes, when your wingers are on fire such as Young and Valencia (literally on fire in Valencia's case) then breaking down teams can come from out wide and the CGS combo will ping passes to them all day long. But what happens when they have an off game or the opposition have more legs in the middle than United's ageing trio? This is where Jones will prove to be vital in the title run in, he will never keep the ball as well as Scholes but his hustle and bustle in the middle will overrun midfields and give the team a drive when a battle is needed.
Whatever you say about Capello he has bags of managerial experience at the top level and he felt confident enough throwing Jones in the middle against the likes of Xavi and Iniesta against Spain and I also believe Ferguson has signed him in the long term for the box to box role.
He's not a John O'Shea and also he's not a Roy Keane. He's Phil Jones and United need to utilise his raw ability both in this seasons title run in and in the coming years….in central midfield!
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