In many ways, this season has been a microcosm of Phil Jones’ Manchester United career. There has been the tantalizing promise that somewhere inside that gormless bundle of limbs lives a very good central defender. There has been the occasional near-disastrous performance that is so lumbering and graceless that it is enough to give credence to the idea that Jones is actually a mastiff puppy, hopped up on Qualuudes, trapped inside a man’s body. And of course, there have been the injuries.
Around the mid-point of the season, Jones and Marcos Rojo formed the best Bailly-less central defensive duo that has been in place this year. Jones displayed a rarely-seen composure, and for the bulk of his time in the first team, managed to keep out the brain-dead lapses that have longed plagued his development. That stretch alongside Rojo was a reminder that Jones can still be an impressive player when played consistently (and probably, when kept away from the similarly-unreliable Chris Smalling).
Consistency has been all too fleeting though, and even that period of steadiness was bookended by weeks of inaction due to injury. To further highlight the uncertainty of his position at the club, he has been both praised for his bravery, and criticized for his lack of it.
Jones has perhaps usurped Smalling in the pecking order of largely erratic and no-longer-as-young-as-you-think English center backs at United, but that may not be enough to protect him from being sold this summer. With at least one new center back arriving in the summer, and young Axel Tuanzebe knocking on the door of the first team, Jones may have two more league games to not just earn a starting berth in the Europa League final, but to save his United career.
José Mourinho Approval Rating: A hopeful half-jump of celebration, followed by a mumbled profanity, and an encouraging clap.