With Wilfried Bony set to lead the line for Manchester City at the weekend, it’s vital that Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal deploys a centre-back with pace and power to play alongside Chris Smalling.
Phil Jones has to start on Sunday afternoon. Yes, the 23-year-old looked a little shaky at times against CSKA Moscow on Wednesday and yes, there will come a moment in the derby when he’s either pulling a strange face or bleeding from some area of his body, but that’s Phil Jones - and it’s why some Manchester United fans can’t help but warm to him.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s prediction that Jones could become the greatest player in Manchester United’s history might have been spectacularly wide of the mark, but there’s a player there nevertheless. Still only 23, don’t bet against Jones having a Smalling-esque epiphany this season and proving each and every one of his critics wrong.
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Jones has already made over 130 appearances for the Reds Devils and, if Van Gaal puts his faith in him over the forthcoming weeks and months ahead, he could easily finish his career with at least 500 to his name.
The England international possesses all the tools required to become a top-class centre-back; the only real area of his game that needs working on is his focus and composure.
He's more disciplined now - which is a shame, in a way
He’s certainly become a lot more disciplined in terms of his style of play, although whether that’s been a good thing or not is down to personal preference.
The Phil Jones surge up the middle of the pitch - a familiar sight during his early days as a Manchester United player - appears to have been coached out of him, which is obviously a real shame. Don’t expect it to reappear under Van Gaal, either.
Sink or swim time for Phil Jones
For Smalling to develop into a first-rate centre-back, it took a red card against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium and the real threat of being offloaded by the Red Devils.
Jones faces a similar dilemma now. This really is sink or swim time for the former Blackburn starlet. Either he performs this season, or Van Gaal - aided by cash from the United coffers - will simply go out and buy a better defender to occupy the left centre-back position.
Daley Blind is not the answer
It’s no secret that Van Gaal would prefer a left-footed centre-back in that area of the pitch, but it’s patently clear that Daley Blind is not the answer.
The meek Dutchman is fine when playing against the likes of Sunderland or Norwich City at Old Trafford - where he is afforded the time and space that he needs - but put him against a half-decent team, or a striker with pace and power, and he struggles. Badly.
We saw that happen earlier this season at the Liberty Stadium, where Swansea City’s Bafétimbi Gomis gave poor old Blind a torrid time.
Gomis, incidentally, was the man who replaced Bony at Swansea - and the latter is undoubtedly the more dangerous striker, hence why he’s Sergio Aguero’s back-up at the Etihad Stadium.
Blind was never going to be good enough to become a first-team regular at a club like Manchester United, but he’s a decent squad player with the versatility to play in multiple positions.
Jones, on the other hand, ought to have established himself as one of United’s first-choice centre-backs long before now.
No more excuses Phil, this is your time to shine.
Expect one of these from Van Gaal if you don't.
Manchester United fans: do you believe Phil Jones is a top centre-back? Have your say by leaving a comment in the box below!
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