Monday, 8 October 2012

Phil Jones – One season, two different stories

Once a upon a time, Fabio Capello was asked to compare Phil Jones to a past player, in his position. Capello responded with Two great centre backs of the game, Baresi and Hierro. 

Putting Jones and Baresi in the same sentence, seems utterly stupid. Even if journalists forced the comparison out of him. At the time when Capello made the comparison, Jones was flying for England and Man United, people reluctantly saw the comparisons between Jones and Baresi. But a majority of people thought, ‘you know what, what the hell? The lad is 19 and hasn’t even had a full top season for England let alone Man United. Let’s not get carried away.’ 

While now, if someone came up to you and said Phil Jones is in the same ilk as Baresi and Heirro. You’d probably laugh at the person, and think they were a complete idiot.

What happened to Phil Jones?
In the first half of the season he was on fire. He was glistening at Man United. He made his big transfer to United appear like simple a procedure for a teenager. At times Jones was dominating for Man United and even England. He was providing penetration, creativity and solidity in his play. 

But by the end of the season, Jones had been forgotten by some. And Yes, did go to the Euros, but his role in the team was a merely as a bit part sub. At the start of the season, many thought he’d be a certain starter for England by then. While at the end of the season, people pondered if he was actually good enough to be in the squad.

So what went wrong for Phil jones? Or did anything actually go terribly wrong, or are people overreacting?

I have compared Jones’ stats from last season between August to December ( the first half of the season) and January to May (the second half of the season).

Stats via EPL Index
Green =best, Red = worst

Let’s start off with the defensive stats. On the whole, in terms of tackles, ground duals and aerial duals, in the first half of the season (August – Dec), his win percentage was better than in the second half of the season. The defensive solidity in the first of the season maybe comes down to Jones being more fit, focused and confident.  

However, to be fair to Jones, the decline in percentage, isn’t that much at all. So you can’t say his defending declined severely. But one most consider in the first half of the season, Jones played in a more offensive role. He played central midfield and often right back during the first half of the season. While in the second half, he played mostly right back and centre back. Perhaps that explains why he won more tackles, ground duals and aerial duals more often per a game (in terms of minutes) than in the August – December period. 

My last point on the defensive stats of Jones, it is interesting that the only stat which Jones severely declined from August to May was interceptions. I think this factor is due to Jones lacking in focus in the second half of the season. As its clear, if Jones was a wee bit sharper, he would read the game in a more active way, meaning his interception rate would be close to the first half of the season. But another point to consider is because Jones played in a more defensive role in the second half of the season, as opposed to playing in midfield, the need to intercept is far lower in the defensive third. While in Midfield, the ball is often lose due to United’s aggressive pressing game, meaning there is more balls to intercept.

In terms of passing stats, I feel this will indicate Jones positional play far more clinically than his defensive stats, but generally, passing stats show how tidy, composed and useful he is on the ball.

Firstly, and quite obviously Jones has made far less in the second half of the season. This could be the consequences of Jones playing fewer games in the second half of the season. And it could also be due to Jones playing far less in the middle of the park. 

Another decline in the passing sector was Jones long ball passing and the accuracy of it. I imagine this was due to Jones playing more often at centre back and right back. In those positions Sir Alex Ferguson likes his defence to predominantly build from the back rather than kick it long to the strikers. But that doesn’t particularly explain why his long ball accuracy declined. Perhaps it declined due to tiredness and a lack of fitness in the final phases of last season. I do feel this tiredness has led to a decrease in Jones’ focus when making passes, especially long passes.

 What’s interesting is although Jones has played in far more defensive roles in the second half of the season, his final third passes and accuracy did not declined by much at all. But moving onto chances created, Jones created far less in the second half of the season. Again, I feel this is the consequence of Jones playing in a far more defensive role. However, Jones created more clear cut chances in the second half of the season. This is the consequence of Jones making more runs from deep, thus having more space to exploit. 

Ok, so why did Phil Jones become anonymous and even forgotten in the second half of the season?
The answer to that is simple but varied.

 The stats for me demonstrate Jones became anonymous due to injuries, playing out of position and tiredness. Although Jones played in more of his natural position (a defensive role) in the second half of the season, he lacked the confidence and energy to make the penetrative runs which made him catch everyone’s eye.

Although Jones stats did in overall decline in the second half of the season, I don’t think the stats in the second half of the seas are that bad. Especially considering his age and it’s was first season at Man United. I think in some respects, he overachieved in the first half of the season and often overachievement brings greater expectations on Phil Jones to sustain his form and improve it even further.

However, as I said, Jones stats aren’t bad at all. With time, Phil Jones could be one of the best centre backs in the Premier League. The anonymity he currently faces, could help him progress under the radar.

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