The saying ‘You shall not pass’ is most associated with Lord of the Rings but Phil Jones’ tireless and tenacious performance against Southampton yesterday gave the phrase meaning in football.
The England centre-back has received criticism from nearly every football pundit and commentator, but while Jones has proven his ability on a few occasions, he has not been able to find the answers on a consistent basis due to never-ending injuries.
Perhaps that’s because of the way Jones constructs his playing style from the defence. In several matches, his clearances, touches, and passes may be messy and ragged around the edges, but when given time to excel he has performed his duties to a tee and results have followed.
The other fact to consider is that Jones’ utility early on in his United career became his downfall. When he arrived at the club, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand were still the main choices at the back, and with Jones’ nickname the ‘jack of all trades’ he became a utility player.
Now without injury and the opportunities to establish himself at centre back, Jones has become a regular, Jose Mourinho impressed by his leadership and physical power and build.
No surprise then that when United faced their toughest test of the season so far, Jones delivered. Jones was firm and resolute in his efforts to ensure. Saints striker Shane Long remained frustrated, regularly denying the Irish international the service he needed to make a meaningful impact in the match.
United had taken a 1-0 lead through Romelu Lukaku’s 20th-minute tap-in and faced a vibrant Southampton attack looking to react.
The closest the home side came was mid-way through the second half when Long darted through down the right, to be denied by Jones who’s tackle forced a corner.
While that tackle was impressive the next was a match-winner, when Jones somehow managed to stretch his right leg to deflect Maya Yoshida’s back-heel away from Oriol Romeu, who would’ve tapped into an open net at the back post.
Throughout the game Jones formed a granitic partnership with Eric Bailly, repelling numerous Saints attacks as the home fans at St Mary’s continued to groan and moan, especially when Jose Mourinho introduced Chris Smalling in the last 20 minutes to shore up the rear guard even further.
To say Jones was a nauseating nuisance for Southampton wouldn’t be an understatement. The England international won every single tackle and aerial dual, had a 90% pass accuracy and made 12 clearances and three crucial tackles.
It is then easy to understand why Jones has played in all six of United’s Premier League matches so far this season, five of which have yielded a clean sheet for the Reds.
If he continues this form then David De Gea can book an early holiday.