Phil Jones Transformed from Utility Man to Star Man at Manchester United

Rob DawsonManchester United CorrespondentNovember 10, 2013

OLD TRAFFORD, MANCHESTER — Phil Jones could have quite easily found himself in three different positions against Arsenal.

With Rafael nursing damaged ankle ligaments, he's probably the next best option at right-back.

Rio Ferdinand was left on the sidelines, too, and the 21-year-old will have come into David Moyes's thinking when he chose his centre-halves.

As it was, Jones found himself in midfield alongside Michael Carrick, given the unenviable task of shackling Arsene Wenger's sparkling midfield.

It's the curse of the utility man, called on to fill gaps rather than given the chance to make any one position his own.

MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 29:  John O'Shea of Man.Utd runs with the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Aston Villa at Old Trafford on March 29, 2008 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

United have had a few in the past. Phil Neville, now back as coach at Old Trafford, filled in at right-back, left-back and in midfield. John O'Shea played in both full-back positions too, as well as at centre-half and in midfield.

Jones, though, is a different beast. He's more than just a plaster used to cover up a crack.

He's not a makeshift right-back. He's not an emergency centre-half. And he's a temporary central midfielder.

He's a right-back, a centre-half and a midfielder.

Words like makeshift and emergency don't do Jones' ability justice. After all, there are few Premier League teams who wouldn't want him in any one of those positions.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 02:  Scott Parker of Fulham is closed down by Wayne Rooney and Phil Jones of Manchester United  during the Barclays Premier League match between Fulham and Manchester United at Craven Cottage on November 2, 2013 in London, Engla
Clive Rose/Getty Images

Midfield is perhaps his least-natural position. But Sir Alex Ferguson paid him the ultimate compliment last season by selecting him in midfield against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu.

He would have played in the return game at Old Trafford had it not been for an ankle injury.

Moyes put the same trust in him against Arsenal.

The superlatives have been exhausted in discussions about Arsenal's midfield so far this season.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 10:  Mesut Ozil of Arsenal walks off at the end of the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford on November 10, 2013 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

But as they walked off at half-time 1-0 down, Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey had been anonymous.

Jones, snarling and snapping at whichever yellow shirt was nearby, can take much of the credit for that.

It was only when Jones was moved back to centre-half—after Nemanja Vidic's injury—in the second half that Ozil, Ramsey, Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla began to have any kind of influence.

Not bad for a makeshift midfielder.

Wins over Fulham and Arsenal have helped United stay in touch with the genuine title challengers. Each time, Moyes has picked Jones in midfield.

Against Arsenal, he was chosen ahead of Tom Cleverley, Marouane Fellaini and Anderson, all midfielders by trade.

It's proof of Jones's new standing this season. From utility man to main man.