ROJO & JONES BEHIND UNITED IMPROVEMENT
Defenders often go unnoticed, that is nothing new. Only three defenders in history have won the Ballon d’Or, despite the myriad of defensive talent on show over the years.
It is hardly a revolution, but Manchester United have improved of late, and much of the credit for that mini-turnaround has gone to a striker – Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
No other player’s goals have won their respective side more points in the Premier League than the Swede’s, and there is no doubting who United’s go-to talisman has been, with Ibrahimovic’s well-taken winner at Crystal Palace another example of his worth.
However, no empire can be built without solid foundations, and United have found a previously unfancied defensive alliance that is starting to look like it is here to stay.
Phil Jones has become a bit of a joke figure around Old Trafford. Whether it is the faces that he pulls when going up for a header, or his rather sketchy injury record.
The former Blackburn defender has been very much a victim of his own versatility, whether it be shoved out at right-back as a more reliable option to the erratic Rafael, or as a holding midfielder as United have tried, and largely failed, to find a long-term successor to Michael Carrick.
Yet, Jones himself has always been adamant his best position is in the middle, and although he has never been able to hold down a regular place in the heart of the United defensive, he has at times looked more than accomplished.
After all, Sir Alex Ferguson would not have forked out such an inflated fee for Jones if he didn’t see something.
Marcos Rojo is another who has flattered to deceive so far in a United shirt. Signed after an impressive World Cup with Argentina in 2014, the former Sporting Lisbon defender can play at left-back or in the middle. In neither position has he looked at home so far.
Rojo’s biggest problem is that he has been somewhat kamikaze. With a penchant for a two-footed lunge, the 26-year-old could easily have been sent off twice in his last three appearances, but managed to escape with a yellow card each time.
That reprieve has helped United, as he has started to forge this bond with Jones. Harry Kane has rarely looked as ineffective as he did at Old Trafford last weekend, and that is down to the tightest of marshalling from Rojo.
They compliment each other quite well. Jones is very much a no nonsense defender, happy to clear his lines rather than play his way out of trouble, while Rojo is much more willing to get forward and possesses a wicked cross with his left foot.
Aside from Crystal Palace’s superb equaliser at Selhurst Park, and a fine David de Gea stop from a long distance effort, Jones and Rojo again looked assured, kept their concentration and played a crucial part in giving United the platform to earn a vital three points.
Such rigidity allowed Paul Pogba to have one of his best games in a United shirt and Ibrahimovic the chance to grab the headlines, without which the pressure could have been piled in Jose Mourinho once more.
Seeing out games has been United’s problem all season, but if it wasn’t for a clumsy Marouane Fellaini challenge at Everton, that would have been three tightly-contested games in a row that Jones and Rojo would have been played a key role in seeing out the win.
They may not reign supreme like Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister, but for now, Jones and Rojo are the best Mourinho has got. Sticking with this much-maligned pair might be the saving of Mourinho yet.