Phil Jones- Evoking the Memory of John O’Shea Since 2010
Ever since he signed for Manchester United in 2011 for £17 million, Phil Jones has been a formidable presence on the pitch- regardless of his position. He has played both across the back line and through midfield. When there has been a hole to fill, Phil Jones has filled it.
Assured, Confident and like ‘The Old’ United
An encouraging performance at the Hawthorns this afternoon saw three goals, three points and three Englishmen on the scoresheet. Goals from Rooney, Jones and Welbeck saw United regain 6th place on goal difference from Everton as the side look to build momentum. The game failed to match the drama seen in last season’s 5-5 draw, but it was not without controversy and turmoil.
A Valuable Win for Moyes’ Men
So, United top their group with a 1-0 home win against Shakhtar, avoiding a third consecutive home loss in the process. It was however, far from a flawless performance. The cliché of “a game of two halves” was well illustrated by the sloppy performance in the first, to a more clinical display in the second. The performance was far from vintage from United, but in the end they managed to grind out a 1-0 win against a well disciplined Ukranian side.
Time for Fellaini to find his feet at United.
It’s hard to think of a more underwhelming major signing in recent times. The previous big splash of Glazer cash to have failed to hit the heights expected was Dimitar Berbatov; yet even he could always rely on a vocal band of admirers to fight his corner. Fellaini has had no such luck. Whereas the capture of the Bulgarian mercurial enigma (cliché klaxon ago go) represented a thrilling, logic defying pursuit of yet more attacking adventure, our Belgian acquisition is by contrast a depressingly sensible acceptance of functionality over flair.
Time for Moyes to start answering the big questions.
What a time for a break. You’d certainly forgive David Moyes for taking some time out to enjoy some rest and recuperation following a suffocating opening few months to life as manager of Manchester United. The old adage that ‘everyone thinks they can be manager’ was traditionally aimed at the national team job but in today’s globalised world debate on who should make up the first eleven of Manchester United rages untamed. Southampton at home should represent the most routine of fixtures yet given the contrasting fortunes of the two sides thus far it has emerged as the pick of the weekend fixtures at betting sites like news.coral.co.uk.
Rather than engage in some downtime, it is far more likely that workaholic Moyes spent every waking hour wrestling with the challenges he faces over the next few weeks, months and even years. Whereas Ferguson became an expert at managing in the face of restriction from above, his successor has found himself roundly criticised for attempting to manage expectations of a manically demanding fanbase. The facebook and twitter mafia might be expected to hit the panic button more readily than the wise old match goer; but both sets of fan groups have legitimate concerns which need to be addressed over the coming series of fixtures.
So what are these challenges that Moyes needs to approach head on?
Proving the Doubters Wrong
Twelve points. Not since May 2001 has the gap between the Premiership leaders and their nearest challengers been so gaping. Manchester United have garnered the highest points tally (65) after 26 games than any other outfit in the Premiership era.
Yet this is a side which receives very little love from the media. Every journalist or pundit stresses to clarify that this is far from a vintage Manchester United side. They’re not blowing teams away every week and their level of performance is far from spectacular. They will go out of the Champions League to Real Madrid and any domestic success will be as a result of the perceived low standard of the competition.
Now, I’m old enough to remember back to May last year. Manchester United ‘blew it’ in ‘the most exciting title race ever’. Manchester City had a seemingly endless chequebook, and by all accounts had a far superior starting eleven and greater strength in depth. Radio phone-in’s across the land and internet football forums were gleeful that not only were United no longer the biggest club in the world, but they weren’t even going to be the biggest in their own city. Then there was Chelsea – European champions and ready to launch a fresh assault on the Manchester dominance.
What Next for Phil Jones?
Football fans are fickle. They always have been, and always will be. It isn’t hard to find examples but the debut season of Phil Jones makes a pretty good case study.
Expectations following his signing were moderate; a learning season awaited as understudy to the indestructible partnership of Vidic and Ferdinand. As so often happens, circumstances ripped up the best laid plans and Jones became a mainstay of the first eleven. Early swashbuckling performances fuelled a hype unlike any I have experienced as a United supporter; ‘future captain’, ‘best English player of his generation’ and a multitude of twitter in-jokes lauding his invincibility.
United at the Euros
As the 2012 European Championship kicks off this evening, here is a quick check on the 7 Manchester United players called up for their respective countries and an analysis on what impact they may have during the competition.
Anders Lindegaard (Denmark)
8 PL games, 6 clean sheets
An injury to Thomas Sorensen the day before the final squad was due to be announced has left Morten Olsen without his first choice goalkeeper. Kasper Schmeichel was drafted into the squad, leaving Stephan Anderson and Anders Lindegaard the front runners to start in goal versus the Netherlands on Saturday.
Anderson has been given the number 1 shirt and played the full 90 minutes in Denmark’s last pre-tournament friendly, a 2-0 win over Australia; giving us the impression that Anders Lindegaard will be the Dane’s backup goalkeeper in Euro 2012.
29 PL games, 8 goals, 10 assists
The Portuguese forward is set to start on the opposite flank to former United star Cristiano Ronaldo. This is Nani’s second senior international tournament following Euro 2008 after missing the 2010 World Cup. Four years ago, Nani’s only start came in Portugal’s final group game which was a 2-0 defeat to Switzerland and he only made substitute appearances in 2 out of Portugal’s other 3 games.
This time around, Nani will be looking to make an impact in this tournament as a starter. But it won’t be easy for the Portugal national team as they have the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark in their group, all of whom are above them in FIFA’s World Rankings with all 4 making the top 10. Coached by Paulo Bento, this team is well organised but struggles to compensate for the imbalance Ronaldo causes.
Spoilt For Choice But United Still Need to Sign a Specialist
Manchester United’s current right-back dilemma is a typical case of how you can have too much of a good thing. Blessed with at least five players who are all more than capable of lining up along side Ferdinand, Evans and Evra, Sir Alex currently lacks a stand out right back in the squad.
Since Gary Neville made the position his own, playing 400 games in that position, United have struggled to find a player capable of delivering the same levels of consistency both defensively and offensively, although Wes Brown certainly put in some of his finest performances for the club there.
This season, Sir Alex has chopped and changed his right-backs more often than the Coalition has changed its views on banks, pasty taxes and fighter jet orders. Inevitably, some of these changes have been forced on him through injury but despite this we are coming to the end of the season without any clear candidate for the right-back role next season.