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Is Jones at centre-back the answer to United’s defensive woes?

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Right, let’s debate Phil Jones. For once, let’s ignore the now boring analysis of the absurd and preposterous faces he pulls when contesting an aerial duel. Let’s instead focus on the more meaningful investigation into just what is the England international’s best position.

Manchester United seem to always have players such as him in their squad, first it was the reliable Phil Neville, then the ever-dependable John O’Shea and now it’s young Jones.

He predominantly gets used as a right-back when Rafael is injured and occasionally does a workman-like job in central midfield, but on Saturday against Sunderland he was played at centre-back, his natural position, alongside Nemanja Vidic. So, how did he do?

He has never been the most elegant to watch when in possession of the ball but in the first-half against Sunderland, he looked even less graceful than normal. First of all, he kicked the ball straight at Vidic in the build-up to Sunderland’s goal and whilst the United captain made the error, Jones could have cleared much more clinically. He followed that up by losing possession to Craig Gardner in a key area and if the midfielder was more decisive, it could have led to a second Sunderland goal. However, Jones responded and made a fantastic saving tackle to make up for his error.

The Sunderland game was the first time that Jones had started a game at centre-back in a long time so we can put these lapses in concentration down to rust and let’s be kind, the tackle he made on Gardner was absolutely fantastic. In fact, Jones had a 100 per cent tackle success rate on Saturday, winning two tackles from two attempted.

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Phil Jones Tackles v Sunderland

He has proven this season that he is uncompromising and an expert when tackling, winning 89 per cent of his tackles in the league so far.

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Phil Jones Tackles Duels Won This Season

Jones played at right-back against Chelsea and West Brom at Old Trafford and proved that he is uncomfortable in a position that requires quality in possession, when in advanced wide-areas. Against the Blues, he completed just 76 per cent of his passes, with most of them going backwards whilst also failing to complete a cross.

Phil Jones Passes v Chelsea (76 per cent Pass Accuracy)

Jones is a footballer who loves a duel, so you can see why he does a good job in central midfield, but he himself has always stuck to the belief that he is a centre-back and the game against Sunderland proved him correct.

When attempting less challenging passes, Jones is reliable on the ball. Jones completed 95 per cent of his total passes on Saturday and also made three interceptions.

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Phil Jones Pass Accuracy v Sunderland (95 per cent Pass Accuracy)

If Jones is to make it as a centre back, he will need to become much more dominant in the air but this should happen when he gets a regular run of games in his preferred position. Against Sunderland, he won just four of his 10 headed duels which was by far his worst performance in the air this season. This is probably because he normally challenges for the ball with much smaller players when he plays right-back. But overall, he has won 10 of his 16 headed duels (63 per cent) this season.

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Phil Jones Aerial Duels v Sunderland (40 pre cent Success Rate)

If Moyes is to be a success at United, he needs to be evolutionary when picking his central defensive pairings. Rio Ferdinand has proved in recent weeks that he is declining rapidly and Vidic is by no means the same player he was before his injury troubles. The United manager should give Jones, Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling more game-time at centre-back for this exact reason. It may be romantic for United fans seeing a pairing of Ferdinand and Vidic but times change, they can’t go on forever, as proven by their performances against Man City and West Brom. It is time for Moyes to give the new generation a shot at being regular the centre-backs and Jones is the prime candidate.

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