The sight of Phil Jones being stationed in the centre of the Manchester United midfield yet again at the weekend in their 1-0 defeat to Newcastle has come to symbolise the champions' alarmingly steep decline this season.
Phil Jones is a centre half. He is a defender. He has no place playing in midfield.
The centre of midfield is the most important position on the pitch, the team’s engine room, previously occupied at Old Trafford by such greats as Bryan Robson, Paul Ince, Roy Keane and Paul Scholes.
To now have a central defender playing there is simply an embarrassment for United and their manager David Moyes.
It should be said Jones performed well in this role against Arsenal last month, harrying and shutting down their midfield, but this was nothing more than a containment job.
A Manchester United midfielder must possess more than that. He has to have creativity and presence; he can’t simply stop others, he must make things happen around him.
He must also provide leadership and seek to control the tempo of games, knitting together moves and striding forward to create openings and score goals.
The brutal truth is Jones is not that type of player. He doesn’t possess the creative talents, range of passing, mobility or goal threat to be a genuine midfielder.
In his recent autobiography Sir Alex Ferguson, who did use Jones in midfield himself, conceded that he was a natural central defender and this would become his best position.
Jones is eminently more comfortable in the centre of defence with the play happening mostly in front of him and the simple instruction to negate the opposition’s attacks, but in midfield where the play happens all around him he begins to look more vulnerable.
In midfield Jones can do a man-marking job, but little else.
Compare Jones to Everton’s Ross Barkley, the model of the English midfielder United should be showcasing. Barkley can beat players, is comfortable on the ball, passes incredibly well both long and short and is a constant goal threat around the penalty area.
Also compare Jones to the litheness and fluidity of Arsenal increasingly impressive stable of midfielders Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky, Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta.
Jones has neither the technique nor the physique to become this player.
This appeared to be a clear signal as to how Moyes wanted his midfield to operate, and yet confusingly when he did finally sign a midfielder it was an altogether different player in Marouane Fellaini.
Fellaini is a bigger, more physical and slower player, who so far has had a distinctly underwhelming start to his Old Trafford career.
While Jones plays with more energy than Fellaini, together they provide uninspiring and pedestrian options in midfield.
Elsewhere it has long been obvious that Tom Cleverley and Anderson are simply not good enough to be Manchester United players.
At the moment Michael Carrick stands alone as the only conventional central midfielder worthy of the role at United.
When Jones first emerged at Blackburn Rovers he was hailed as the new John Terry; an uncompromising defender, strong and composed, and this should remain his aim.
He should retreat back to defence and become this player, especially with Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic winding down their careers.
Midfield should be left to the midfielders, and Jones isn’t one, but the major concern for United is that he appears to be one of the best they have in that position right now.