At the start of the season, both Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo were considered fourth and fifth choice central defenders for Manchester United behind Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling and Daley Blind.
Error-prone Argentine Rojo was expected to be sold while Jones was forgotten about due to his constant time on the treatment table. The thought of both of them playing together regularly in defence would have sent shivers down United fans’ spines, and with good reason.
As a result of injuries, Jones and Rojo have benefitted. This must be the longest streak of games Jones has played together while it must be the most Rojo has gone without making a costly mistake.
Both defenders have been the butt of many a joke. In particular Jones’ facial expressions and Rojo’s poor cooking.
Can’t defend and can’t make toast.
Rojo’s modern life. pic.twitter.com/T2EoGzCOh3
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) December 11, 2016
Jones was signed by Sir Alex Ferguson for £16.5 million in 2011, with Fergie claiming he had the potential to be United’s greatest ever player. It has been proven that those words were premature with injuries hampering the 24-year-old’s development.
Jones might not be the best in possession, in fact he is quite poor on the ball, but he loves defending and putting his head where others would not put their foot. John Stones could learn a thing or two from him.
Jones’ statistics against Tottenham were particularly impressive, as he and Rojo kept Harry Kane quite.
Phil Jones' game by numbers vs. Spurs:
100% aerial duels won
2 tackles won
1 clean sheet
Rock solid. pic.twitter.com/zkbqFq9aRU
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 11, 2016
What has helped him recently is that he’s now getting a run of games in his best position. It is easy to forget that even when he was injury free, the ex-Blackburn man was constantly rotated to right back and even central midfield, particularly under Ferguson.
Rojo, who was signed by Louis van Gaal in the summer of 2014 from Sporting Lisbon for almost £16 million, similarly to Jones, has struggled to tie down a set position – being switched from centre back to left back or to the bench.
There is no doubt that Rojo can be rash, as seen by his tackle against Everton where he was fortunate not to be shown red. However, in general he has become a much improved player in the last few games.
Rojo brings aggression and passion to United’s game and he normally comes out on top in one on one duels.
The argument here is not that Jones and Rojo can become the next Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister or Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. That is far from the truth, and it is difficult to see the partnership lasting with Bailly around.
However, when we see atrocious defending in the Premier League every week, particularly by Liverpool and Manchester City, Jones and Rojo do not seem that bad after all.
Vincent O’Shea, Pundit Arena