Phil Jones has been widely considered one of England’s hottest youth prospects since making his first competitive start for Blackburn against Chelsea just a month after turning eighteen.
Impressive form at centre back led to a transfer to Manchester United believed to be around £16.5million. Since joining the Red Devils he has shown glimpses of brilliance in between extended periods of injury layoffs, and he has amassed five England caps.
Despite having achieved all this by the tender age of 21, constant murmurings amongst the football world over which is his best position have got louder and louder. Is he a dominant centre back, a flying right back or a powerhouse box-to-box midfielder?
There’s a case to be made for all three. The importance of settling on the correct position shouldn’t be underplayed. Sport is littered with stories of highly talented athletes who were so versatile they had to settle for a place on the bench.
If Phil Jones is to avoid this fate then he’d better hope he can find his positional home – and quickly.
This is the position that many pundits believe Jones will end up in. His strength in the air makes him a real force to be reckoned with at the back, while his marking and tackling skills are extremely sharp.
He played at centre back throughout his time with Blackburn and it’s arguably the position in which he’s looked the most comfortable. However, some believe that Jones is potentially wasted at the back because one of Jones’ best attributes is his powerful running with the ball.
Playing at centre back is unlikely to tap into this running potential, aside from one or two forays per game. Furthermore, Jones has occasionally showcased a lack of composure, which he can possibly get away with in midfield or out wide but the Premier League shows no mercy to mistakes made by the last man.
An injury to Rafael and a lack of centre back opportunities due to the form of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić saw both Jones and Chris Smalling share the right back position last season.
Since then Jones has gone on to play there on numerous occasions, notably producing a fantastic performance against Real Madrid to stifle Cristiano Ronaldo’s game.
The benefits of Jones as a right back are that he will cause headaches for opposition fullbacks on the overlap and his strong tackling can be relied upon to quell some of the trickier Premier League wingers.
However, a lack of composure in the final third and poor crossing ability are the main reasons why Jones has lost out to in-form Rafael at right back. Although he has turned out for England at right back and can certainly do a job there, the full back position just doesn’t seem like the place to utilise Jones’ best assets.
Since Roy Keane left Manchester United they have struggled to find a combative ball winning midfielder. The likes of Kleberson and Eric Djemba-Djemba have failed miserably, and Sir Alex Ferguson seems to have settled for utilising Michael Carrick in the holding role to take advantage of his passing from deep.
However, Phil Jones could offer the solution. His fast and furious box-to-box running style could be a real asset for United as he’s built in the same mould as Yaya Toure. Admittedly the youngster lacks a genuine goal-scoring threat right now, which is perhaps why many feel he does not belong in midfield. However, Jones could be the ball-winner many United fans long for.
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