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Should Manchester United give Phil Jones another contract?

Phil Jones has been at Manchester United seven years. When the Red Devils signed him from Blackburn Rovers for £16.5 million in the summer of 2011, many thought he would not only become a regular for Manchester United, but also for his country. He burst on to the scene with some fantastic performances in his early Manchester United career. So much so, the great Sir Alex Ferguson compared him to club legend Duncan Edwards. This was extremely high praise indeed from the former Manchester United boss.

Seven years later and these claims made by the great Scot appear to be quite comical, considering how Phil Jones has performed in recent years. The 26-year-old is out of contract at the end of the season and United are yet to trigger a 12-month extension clause in his existing deal. Jones has had a wretched injury record since being at the club. Often when he shows signs that he is getting back to form, he falls foul of yet another injury. This season he has lost his place in the team to Victor Lindelof.

Often Jose Mourinho would turn to Chris Smalling and Phil Jones as his preferred centre-back pairing when they were both fit, but the form of Lindelof has meant Jones has had to watch from the sidelines. Additionally, when Jones and Smalling have played together they haven’t complimented each other well. There was a game last season against Newcastle United at Saint James Park when Manchester United lost 1-0.

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Both Smalling and Jones played together at the back. They had a torrid afternoon and really struggled at the back and were lucky to come off the pitch without conceding more than just the one goal. Similarly this season, both played against Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford at the start of the season. Unfortunately, Jones was at fault for one of the Tottenham Hotspur goals. He lost his man Harry Kane from a corner and Kane made no mistake punishing Jones’ lack of concentration.

Since then Jones has not made many first team appearances, due to either lack of form or his usual injury issues. He made his first team return in a 1-0 win against Young Boys on Tuesday and played against Southampton on Saturday. He admitted after the Young Boys game that he has to prove his long-term fitness to Mourinho. He also needs to prove he can be a reliable centre-back for the club when he is fit. He is no longer a young centre-back, who you can forgive making the odd mistake here and there.

He is at an age now where he needs to assert himself on the team. Often when Jones plays, he can be playing well for most of the game but you always feel there is a mistake in him. Jones has the opportunity now to stake a claim in the team and prove he deserves a contract extension. Sadly Victor Lindelof will be missing for the foreseeable future with an injury he picked up against Crystal Palace.

With Eric Bailly seemingly not a favoured option for Mourinho, this could be Jones’ final opportunity to stake a claim to be Manchester United’s regular centre back. Of course with the busy festive Christmas schedule coming up, there will be plenty of opportunities for Jones to play and impress the manager. It has been quite sad to see the demise of Jones. Manchester United supporters often grimace at the sight of him on the team sheet these days.

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That was a far cry from when he first joined the club. There was a real excitement around Jones. He could play centre back, right back and even played centre midfield. He would often make long, lung-busting runs forward with the ball. Unfortunately, we have seen less and less of this as his career at United has progressed. This could well be down to his injury record and a lack of confidence from not being a regular starter. Against Young Boys and Southampton, Jones was solid enough at the back.

This is all too familiar a tale with Jones though. He often comes back in to the team and has a few games where you think he is starting to assert himself as a regular in the team but then gets injured. Mourinho could well finally run out of patience with Jones if he has another long injury lay-off. Last summer, Mourinho openly admitted he wanted a new centre-back or two. That should raise alarm bells for Jones.

Certainly when the summer transfer window opens next year, Manchester United will be in the market for a new centre back. With the vast improvement in Victor Lindelof and Mourinho’s willingness to bring a new centre-back in, this really could be the last chance saloon for Phil Jones at Manchester United.

Written by Ross Struel Clarke

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