Tag Archives: phil jones

Defensive Dilemma

Amongst the myriad of conundrums which Jose has had to crack this year, the heart of defence certainly appears one of the trickiest propositions. Unlike Sir Alex, who could rely upon the superb defensive pairing of Ferdinand and Vidic, Mourinho has had to; through injury circumstance hone the capabilities of hitherto defensive reprobates Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo.  Argument is rife amongst supporters about which two defenders combine for our best central defensive partnership, if all are fit and whether their form justifies our reticence to strengthen this area in the transfer market during the January window. Furthermore, with youth products such as Axel Tuanzebe and Timothy Fosu-Mensah vying for defensive inclusion, another portion of the fan base would prefer to develop their talents to provide the solution of defensive solidity.  The dearth of clean sheets, despite having the best keeper in the league, suggests that this is a situation which needs to be rectified as soon as possible but the solution is not an entirely obvious one.

Firstly, we need to look at the defensive displays we have shown in the league to garner evidence on how the current defensive crop has performed thus far under Mourinho’s stewardship. Whilst attacking frailties have been magnified regarding Manchester United’s profligacy, the defence has escaped similar censure principally because of the upturn in fortunes over the last couple of months in positive results. However, Manchester United have only attained ten clean sheets in 25 league games.  Contrast this with runaway league leaders Chelsea who have accrued 13 clean sheets over an equal number of games and it becomes apparent how integral defensive security is as a characteristic of a team.

Indeed, when you look at the games in which we have secured “drosses” (a term coined by Mark Goldbridge, referring to a draw which is as good as a loss), Stoke (both home and away), Arsenal, West Ham, Everton and Liverpool (Home), a greater proportion are games which have ended one all than goalless “drosses”, only Liverpool (away) and Hull at home in fact all season.  Indubitably, we were wasteful with our own chances but the opposition offered very little threat for the most part, sporadic at best yet were able to find the net to steal points from us.  This is why I feel that the defensive issues have been camouflaged somewhat by the hyperbole surrounding our profligacy rather than an inability to bolt the door at the other end from even the tamest of attacking pillagers.

Of the four main central defenders we possess on our current roster which has emerged this season with the most credit and which the least?  Eric Bailly, upon first glance, appears the most obvious starting centre back due to his athletic powerful physique and combative nature. However, 3 yellow cards and other flaring points have led to concerns regarding the Ivorian’s temperament. To his credit though, he does possess the extra guile and class compared with his contemporaries.  Marcos Rojo, to an even greater extent, despite sharing the 3 yellow card amount with Bailly is prone to the odd, rash challenge which could have warranted harsher punitive action against Everton and Crystal Palace. By contrast, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling have yet to pick up a league card, showing a greater level of maturity. Only yesterday, Eric Bailly received an unnecessary red card in the Europa League against St Etienne, albeit a harsh one which could have further ramifications if committed in a tighter, more important affair.

All defenders pride themselves on their tackling ability but which of our four players has proven themselves most adept at this difficult skill to master? Incredibly, in 14 Premier League games this season Eric Bailly, tops the list with 26 tackles won during these games and whilst Jones and Rojo have won 16 and 14 tackles respectively at the time of writing, Chris Smalling has only won 7 tackles. This really epitomises why Smalling seems relatively lightweight when compared with his more combative counterparts, as he doesn’t possess the ability to dominate the opposing attacking players. The more prescient of readers will have determined the most logical counterargument would be that Smalling’s reading of the game and his number of interceptions in the Premier League this season would be larger, which is why he is forearmed and doesn’t need to tackle as often as our other case subjects.

In interceptions, once more though, Eric Bailly stands head and shoulders above the others having accrued 34 interceptions, whilst this time Rojo and Jones swap positions in the pecking order and have accumulated 24 and 20 interceptions each.  Chris Smalling, incredibly, props up this list also, having made a miserable 8 interceptions in all of his Premier League game time this season. When you combine the two areas of tackles won and interceptions, despite mitigating circumstances of fewer minutes played, the result is a pretty damning indictment of Smalling’s defensive prowess so far this season.

The importance of composure, whilst on the ball as a defender, cannot be understated.  Defenders should be able to beat players and show an aptitude for playing the game in a controlled and considered manner.  Often a defender able to beat players is invaluable, as opposing players are forced to engage the ball and leave open spaces. The opposition’s formation fluctuates which attacking players can look to exploit.  Eric Bailly, in a recurring display of dominance, has a successful take on % of 90 while Marcos Rojo is not far behind with 81.82%.  Phil Jones, has a successful take on rate of 50%, which is a considerable drop in efficiency behind these two while Chris Smalling, in a statistic perhaps the most shocking of any collated in this study, has a successful take on % of 0.  This, quite frankly, beggars belief, given that this guarantees he is, at best, equal worst in the entire Premier League for this statistic.

Smalling is often complimented on his aerial ability and, as we move away from these sobering statistics, he finds redemption in the % of aerial duels won. Phil Jones leads the way with a creditable 73.17% of aerial duels won, whilst Smalling at 66.67% has the second highest figure in this section. Eric Bailly and Marcos Rojo at 60% and 59.62% respectively, are at the foot of the table in that statistic but the disparity in this statistic between our subjects is far less than in other notable areas analysed above.

In the section of amount of clearances, Marcos Rojo really excels with 118 clearances made. Phil Jones (99) and Chris Smalling (92) follow with Bailly (78) rounding off the candidates. This will come as no surprise to people who have watched Marcos Rojo mopping up errors from his defensive counterparts this season, time and time again.  Bailly, at least, is forgiven because of his successful take on % of 90 as it shows he might want to play out from the back but surely Jones and Smalling who particularly foundered in that area should be the highest in clearances?

It should also be noted that in general terms with fouls committed, Smalling and Jones could be seen to thrive, having only committed 7 and 5 respectively compared with Bailly (14) and Rojo (17) which also provides support for their case to be included.  However, as I mentioned before quite often Rojo and Bailly are left exposed by their lack of positional awareness. Smalling and Jones, as we know, have a tendency to dally on the ball too long, shown in their far inferior take on scores.

In conclusion, my overarching recommendation would be to buy a top quality, world class centre back in the summer to complement Eric Bailly. We owe it to David De Gea to try and protect him more than we do currently, with a better defensive unit than we possess at present and a recognised, proven centre back would provide a more solid foundation for any potential title tilt next season.  In terms of the current central defensive pairing, my feeling, compounded by the evidence studied above is that Marcos Rojo is the man best suited to partnering Eric Bailly for the remainder of the season.

Chris Smalling’s figures and position across the analysis, attributable to his general lack of composure enable us; I feel to remove him from the equation of our best partner for Bailly.  Phil Jones, unlike Sir Alex Ferguson postulated  in perhaps his worst error of judgment during his tenure, is nowhere near the player comparable to Duncan Edwards, as he doesn’t have the ball playing skill necessary to be a top centre back. His favourite phrase may well be coined as “Why make a forward pass, if one sideways or backwards would do?” His total of 191 backward passes monumentally dwarfs Rojo (138) and Bailly (106) in fewer minutes played providing evidentiary substantiation to this quip. Also, his injury record is quite simply staggering and it would be an incredible shock if he were to overturn his near legendary permanent place on the Manchester United treatment table.

Rojo, by contrast, has a far greater ball playing ability, shown through his more positive passing (549 forward passes) comfortably ahead of Bailly in 2nd (384) and take on ability and as I alluded to before, has a far, far superior level of composure. The ability to make the correct decision in a stressful defensive situation, in my view, really separates Rojo from Jones or Smalling and makes him the ideal candidate to partner Bailly going forward this season as well as the statistical evidence supplied above.

Statistics Obtained from www.squawka.com

The rise and fall of Phil Jones

He was once touted as the future captain of Manchester United and England but Phil Jones career at United has not just stalled but seemingly come to an end. A career that started so promisingly for the young English defender has been blighted with injury and an inability to stay fit.

Phil Jones has been ruled out with another injury and will miss at least the next month with a knee injury. Jones injury record has become some what of a joke among United supporters and most will now surely be asking if his time at Old Trafford has come to an end.

Jones was signed by the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson for £16.5 million from Blackburn Rovers in June 2011 after just two years with the Blackburn senior team. Sir Alex was particularly impressed with his commitment and leadership skills at centre-back, even at the young age of just 19.

Phil Jones was signed by Sir Alex Ferguson in 2011 (Picture: zimbio.com)
Phil Jones was signed by Sir Alex Ferguson in 2011 (Picture: zimbio.com)

His debut for United came during the 2011-2012 pre-season tour of the USA against Chicago Fire and he made his competitive debut in the 3-2 Community Shield win against Manchester City. Jones first season with the club was a successful one appearing 41 times in all competitions, scoring twice, with his first goal coming in a 1-0 away win over Aston Villa.

Jones received rave reviews for performances against Bolton, in which he provided 2 assist, Chelsea and Liverpool early on in the season. During 2011, then England manager Fabio Capello, compared Jones to former Milan and Italy captain Franco Baresi and former Real Madrid and Spain captain Fernando Hierro.

The 2012-2013 season for Jones was halted by injury and he only managed 24 appearances in all competitions for United. However he came back strong during 2013-2014 season, which was arguably his best season in a United shirt, making 39 appearances in all competitions for United and scoring 3 goals.

In 2013, after a game against Aston Villa, Sir Alex said after the match “You saw Jones tonight, arguably, the way he is looking, he could be our best-ever player.” With Sir Bobby Charlton also being known to have said that Phil Jones reminded him of Duncan Edwards.

Those words of praise for Phil Jones by Sir Alex Ferguson have yet to materialise and seemingly never will. From the end of the 2013-2014 season until now Jones has only managed 37 appearances for United in over 2 years. His season last year was wrecked before it began with yet another injury and during September Jones even admitted that Chris Smalling and Daley Blind were ahead of him in the pecking order.

Phil Jones picks up an injury against Hull City in 2014 (Picture: brunchnews.com)
Phil Jones picks up an injury against Hull City in 2014 (Picture: brunchnews.com)

The injuries sustained at the start of the 2015-2016 season may well prove to be the most costly in regards to Jones long term future at the club. Whilst Jones continued with injuries Chris Smalling was able to stay fit, become United’s starting centre back and never looked back. Jones has become United’s Mr Unreliable and unreliability is a death sentence at any big club.

The vast amount of injuries have more than prevented Jones from developing and evolving into a powerful, commanding and top class centre-back. Jones was tipped for the very top and was certainly heading that way early on in his United career. However the consistent and unrelenting injuries seem to have stopped Jones from reaching his potential and have left him at a crossroads.

Jones is still only 24 years of age, still relatively young for a centre-back, and could yet force his way into Jose Mourinho’s plans. However with the consistent run of injuries and inability to stay fit the more than likely outcome will be that United will look to sell the defender at the end of the season. Jones will then need to fight to save his footballing career and make sure he does not fade away into obscurity.

How do you feel about Phil Jones? Do you feel sorry for him? Do you feel he could have been a United great if not for injuries? Let us know you thoughts in the comments below.

Herrera and Jones to miss PSV game

Both Ander Herrera and Phil Jones picked up injuries in Saturday’s game at Watford.

Louis van Gaal has confirmed that both players will not be fit to play in the midweek Champions League game against PSV Eindhoven.

Ander Herrera left the field midway through the first half due to a hamstring injury and Phil Jones was substituted in the second half after twisting his ankle.

Better news for Man United is that both Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney could return for the game against PSV Eindhoven after missing the Watford game. Martial due to a foot injury and Rooney due to illness. A win against PSV would secure qualification for the knockout stages.

To read the full article on the Sky Sports website, please click here.