Phil Jones' performance in the 2-0 win against Everton may have been his best in a Manchester United shirt. In a week where the Englishman's pre-match illness was "shingled out" by Stuart Pearce, Jones reminded everyone why his Old Trafford future could be laden with success (via The Guardian).
How will the Red Devils stop Marouane Fellaini? It's a question that Manchester United have pondered since April 22, 2012, when the behemoth Belgian romped through Sir Alex Ferguson's defence to snatch an unlikely 4-4 draw. A result that, even now, haunts the United boss (via The Guardian).
Fast forward to the opening day of this season. Buoyed by the signing of Robin van Persie, Manchester United's campaign kicked off with a defeat. Fellaini once again stole the headlines with the only goal in a 1-0 win.
This season, the 25-year-old—who recently told Chelsea to bid for him—arrived at Old Trafford looking to cause even greater damage (via FOX Sports). He rescued Everton with two goals in the 3-3 draw against Aston Villa and entered the Theatre of Dreams with a reputation for securing important points.
Fortunately for the home side, Fellaini was a marked man.
Sir Alex Ferguson felt it necessary to have Jones shadow Fellaini throughout the match. No Michael Carrick in the starting 11? Surely the aging Scot is off his rocker, or at least, planning for Real Madrid? While the latter is certainly true, Ferguson's decision to man mark Everton's main threat was an inspired one.
Despite departing the field with an injury shortly after halftime, Jones summed up a dogged team performance from the Premier League leaders. Alongside the likes of Rafael, Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney, the former Blackburn player deserves to be outlined as one of the game's star performers.
Let's break down his display. Jones is a versatile player who can play anywhere across the defence and central midfield. He possesses remarkable energy that is often wasted at centre-back. I believe Jones is best placed in defensive midfield, a position that allows the youngster to fulfill a number of key duties in front of the back four.
Even though he was inserted in the middle, Jones was deployed for one reason: to stop Fellaini. He traversed the halfway line and trailed Fellaini's route to goal, halting his influence in the progress. The middle third of the pitch was always going to be important in this match, so it was impressive to see Jones patrol the entire width of the field tracking his man (see below).
During his 56-minute appearance, Jones posted a host of game-defining stats. His 94-percent pass-completion rate was higher than any other starter, including both of his long balls finding a teammate.
Jones' biggest contribution came in the defensive department. He averaged an interception every 10 minutes, with Nemanja Vidic the only man posting more successful cut outs across the entire encounter. Even so, the Serb managed six—just one more than his early departed colleague.
Perhaps most importantly, the performance of Fellaini highlighted exactly how effective Jones' stint was. The afro-haired midfielder started in an advanced position and expected to receive the ball when Everton moved forward. By the end of the game, David Moyes pushed him into a defensive role, because this route of progress was thoroughly clogged.
How often has that happened this season? Fellaini has 10 goals and three assists in 21 Premier League appearances this campaign, suggesting this kind of dominance isn't common.
Ferguson's shrewdness could affect Everton as we move into the latter stages of the season. Jones' ability to nullify Fellaini might coax other teams intro trying the same thing. If this happens, the individual assigned to such a task must commit as wholeheartedly as Manchester United's steadily-improving midfielder.
Jones played with a real sense of enthusiasm against the Toffees. He irritated, frustrated and ultimately broke down an opponent who has captured the interest of the Premier League's best (via The Daily Mirror).
Right now, Manchester United fans will be hoping Jones is fit and healthy for the colossal Champions League clash against Real Madrid.
Was Jones the star performer against Everton? Let me know in the comments section below and be sure to follow me on Twitter.
All statistics in this article are courtesy of Whoscored.