Phil Jones only managed 20 appearances in total last season, but the 21-year-old still made his mark on the title winning campaign. His performance in the Bernabéu in the Champions League in particular was a wonder to behold, and it was the first real indication of what the future may hold for this centre-back from Preston.
The trouble is, as Man Utd found once more in the 2nd leg vs. Real Madrid, Jones is injury prone. His battle through numerous injuries has hindered the start to his Old Trafford career, and has limited the number of starting appearances he has made.
Even though he still has years of experience to gain before he will be truly appreciated as a great defender, the next season or two are crucial. Rio Ferdinand, who at the age 34 is only surviving because of a 'detailed training schedule', could soon be finished off by his long standing back injury. As too could captain Nemanja Vidic, who will miss Man Utd's pre-season tour due to injury. He has also suffered two major knee injuries in the last two seasons. All this means is that Manchester United is now yearning for a new leader from the back, who can take the mantel in the next five years.
Phil Jones will surely be that man, and next season should be his time to prove he can be relied on to stay fit and consistently perform.
The new man in charge, David Moyes, will be creating Man Utd in his vision. He will be looking to add some new, to remove some old, and work with players already at his disposal to create a team built for present and future success. Phil Jones has the potential to be a part of the future, but a strong first impression is a must.
Man Utd can no longer rely solely on the partnership of Ferdinand and Vidic next season, as the partnership will not be there to rely on much longer. Jonny Evans made a strong case last season in the place of Vidic, but Jones now needs to be a regular fixture of Moyes' starting XI for both his sake and Man Utd's.
Jones offers some versatility as both a midfielder, where he played against Real Madrid, and as a defender, where he has performed excellently in games such as the one against Aston Villa at home, in which Man Utd secured their 20th league title.
His performance vs. Villa led Sir Alex Ferguson to believe Jones could be one of the best players Man Utd has seen. This statement could have been made due to the champagne intake, or even the age of retirement, but it was a shocking claim nonetheless.
I am not saying Jones will be Man Utd's greatest, or saying Ferguson is wrong (even though he is), but last season Jones proved his maturity on the biggest stage. His bursts forward in the style of a younger Ferdinand (though sometimes it is more of a clumsy stampede), and his often impeccable timing when tackling, along with his composure, is exactly what Man Utd now needs in their defense. He also has miles to burn in terms of fitness, and his work rate is consistently high from start to finish.
The 2013/2014 campaign is the season Jones should claim one centre-half role for his own. This should be his breakthrough season.