Phil Jones is a United player that, for the most part, splits opinion amongst football fans.
While some maintain that Jones is one of the brightest defensive prospects that the English game has to offer right now, others champion the concept that the 21-year-old from Preston has been unable to justify the faith put in him by the Red Devils when they signed him two summers ago from Blackburn Rovers.
Some have argued that Jones’ failure to consistently perform for the champions comes as a result of the Englishman not being asked to hold down one solitary position.
Unfortunately for Jones, it is his versatility at defensive roles—having played at centre-back, right-back and even as a central defensive and holding midfielder—which have seen him being used as more of a jack of all trades as opposed to the solid-as-a-rock central defender that he was at Ewood Park.
As such, it begs the question: What is Phil Jones’ best role with Manchester United?
On Monday night United took on a dangerous looking Chelsea side, with Jones slotting in for the injured Rafael at right-back.
While able to bully the Chelsea midfield and, for the most part, keep all attacks at bay, this is a role which does require an ability to go forward and whip dangerous crosses into the box.
Jones' attacking abilities are not terrible, but it would be somewhat delusional for any United fan to believe that he could reach a par with their regular Brazilian full-back in the offensive department.
Against Jose Mourinho’s men it would be incredibly harsh to say that Jones looked devoid of any sense of what to do on the break forward, but at the same time there was a noticeable lack of confidence—and perhaps more critically a lack of threat—when he darted forward in comparison with Patrice Evra on the left wing.
When the 5'7" Rafael da Silva runs at a team’s defence they aren’t exactly quaking in their boots; but the Brazilian often shocks most critics with his turn of pace and sweetly driven crosses.
This is something that Jones somewhat lacks from his game.
So if a full-back slot isn’t the best option for the young man then perhaps we should consider his options as defending midfielder.
This is probably the least commonly seen of the three positions Jones has occupied, and, in truth, I’m not entirely surprised by that.
United have famously been struggling to round up enough decent central midfielders for a while now, and their attempts to convert a defender into one emphasises their desperation.
Jones is not a midfielder, and while again a few promising performances have been exhibited in this area, ultimately playing ahead of the United defence is not what the Lancastrian does best.
There was a reason that United signed the then 19-year-old Jones from a relegation-battling Blackburn Rovers side.
Jones was a standout player at the very heart of the Rovers defence, and a solid season-long outing playing some outstanding football was what convinced Sir Alex Ferguson to go in for his man.
The key problem for Jones is that since joining United, he has seen relatively little game time in this specialist area.
It’s understandable that when you have a central defensive partnership as good as Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand (not to mention backup in the form of Jonny Evans) that it is always going to be a struggle to break into the team ahead of them.
However, when Jones has been asked to fulfil this duty, he has done so with aplomb.
Jones has been unfortunate in the sense that Ferdinand has perhaps been able to maintain a top-quality level of play for longer than Sir Alex might have expected when he signed the young defender.
In my mind, I believe that Fergie signed Jones in the belief that Rio would soon be stepping aside from first-team duty as his age caught up with him.
However, as Jones approaches his third year with the club, Ferdinand is still going as strong as ever (albeit at a much slower pace) in his central defensive slot.
While this is good news for United fans, it does unfortunately leave Jones in somewhat of a positioning limbo, as he is unable to go out and make any role solely his.
This is an issue that cannot be resolved until either Ferdinand retires, or more likely, Jones steps up and shows David Moyes that he is good enough for a regular first-team slot at the heart of the United defence.
So what is Jones’ best role at United? The same one that saw him take the league by storm during his Blackburn days.
For now though, Jones will have to play the waiting game and do his duty filling in for the injured Rafael at right-back.
Who knows, perhaps this experience in the position will do him the world of good and may even yet see him converted into a long-term fullback eventually?
Either way, Jones has shown that on the whole he is capable of playing pretty much anywhere in the back four, and a player like that is something which most managers would give their right arm for.