The unlikeliest centre back pairing since Carrick and Fletcher have performed well recently, but the Red Thoughts team wonder, will they go from strength to strength? Or will the bubble burst?
BETS: I’m so pleased to see them both getting such praise and seemingly doing well, but I don’t trust it. I think they’re both going to make mistakes, in fact I think they’ve both already got away with some terrible mistakes, they just weren’t punished. I think Rojo’s two-footed lunges are going to get him sent off and I think Jonesie’s positional sense is woeful. And I still don’t trust them to stay fit either. I’m worried that their seemingly solid performances will stop us from getting another world class CB in the January window, and I think we need one (although there are still a lot of rumours about Lindelof, who would be a cracking signing).
COREY: I think everyone has been pleasantly surprised by how solid the pairing have been. But let’s also be honest. Teams like Crystal Palace and West Brom hardly tested the pairing. With that said though, they did do well against Spurs. But like you said, there has been a lot of luck involved too. Rojo should have had two red cards by now.
I think they have also been helped by having Herrera and Carrick sit in front of them. When Carrick plays we always look a lot more solid. Carrick’s positional sense is amazing, and although he doesn’t always put in those hard tackles, he still finds a way to break up play, just by intercepting passes and such. And then you have Herrera, who just works his socks off, always closing down players and nipping at their heels.
I think if we had to go back to the 4-2-3-1, with the Pogba-Fellaini combo at defensive mid, that we started with at the beginning of the season, you would see Jones and Rojo a lot more exposed then they have been, and that’s where the mistakes would come in.
It is kind of like playing Blind at left back. He is solid, but I think we all know as soon as Shaw is back, that’s who we would prefer. Jones and Rojo have been solid for us, but we would all prefer Smalling and Bailly.
CARL: Jones has never concerned me, I always knew the guy could be excellent if he could get together a run of games. Rojo, on the other hand, has been a pleasant surprise. He’s consistently performing now and the nerves that used to consume me every time I’d watch him play are slowly disappearing. This is one of the brilliances in Jose’s coaching, he seems to have a way with defenders. If they aren’t performing to their capabilities but he sees the potential in them then he’ll make them reach it. Jose’s zonal-marking defensive system is more suited to Rojo’s aggressive, confrontational style. Is there a potential red-card in him? Sure. But it’s the same with Bailly. They’re the physical lead-from-the-front type of CB and this aggression will benefit us more times than it will cost us. Look at Roy Keane or Jaap Stam for an example of that. Lindelof I’m pretty sure will not be allowed to leave in January what with Benfica still going strong in Europe and domestically; besides, whilst I do like Lindelof, I’d like to see us get Van Dijk preferably.
REX: I don’t think we will see the bubble burst any time soon. Familiarity in defence is key and we haven’t had that in a while because of injuries and suspensions. So if they keep playing together undisturbed, who knows?! This current run of form also has a lot to do with the manager’s change of tactics and the way the team is set up formation-wise. It’s almost like the Smalling case, where he flourished under LVG and people thought he’d become so much better. But most of it was down to playing two DMs right in front of the CB pairing, and that slow build up where we had the ball in our half all the time. It made Smalling look like a world beater. It also shortened his time on the sidelines, which was a trademark for Chris. But as we saw this season in the new system, he’s not been as good, mostly because he’s been injured and I think the change in play has a lot to do with his injuries – running a lot more rather than that slow build up. If I’m not mistaken, Bailly has clocked one of the fastest runs from any United player this season and he’s a CB.
But also a lot of times hard work beats unapplied talent. The entire team is working hard for each other, especially defence and midfield. Who knew that Antonio could be a right back and yet now no one is even questioning it, we’re questioning the players who are actually playing in their proper positions!! Mistakes will be made, that’s just being human… because other than the two-footed tackles, Rojo and Jones have barely put a foot wrong in this run of games. So unless something drastic happens like one deciding to leave, I don’t think Mou will be looking anywhere else.
JIM: Jones has serious talent which has been limited by injuries. If he stays injury free and continues on this run of games then he can become a mainstay of our defence.
COREY: Does Jones have talent? That remains to be seen. What he had was potential, potential was the reason we purchased him 6 years ago or whenever. But that was potential that to this day has yet to be realised.
Injuries have hampered his development, and we may still see the best out of him yet. He is only 24, and still developing. But good form will only keep the likes of Bailly and Smalling out of the team for so long.
JIM: Jones is a quick, strong lad who’s shown he’s capable of playing well. Obviously he has fairly poor positional sense and that’s something he needs to work on, but that can be coached out.
CARL: But Smalling isn’t any more of a sure thing. There were always question marks over just how solid a defender Smalling is and just how much is attributed to LVG’s very aiding system. I think to suggest Jones and Rojo doing well is only because of “form” does their efforts a great disservice. There’s no tangible evidence to support that. Jones’ ability has always been evident. Sir Alex saw it and Jose sees it. Besides, if it is down to form then what’s the worst that can happen when they aren’t on form? I bet off form they won’t get destroyed all afternoon like Smalling did against Chelsea fairly recently. I quite like Smalling, I would defend him when he was getting stick a couple of years back, but he’s far from done enough to suggest he’s guaranteed to be regarded as one of our top two CBs.
COREY: I am not saying Jones is a bad player … trust me, I would love for the Smalling-Jones combination to work.
I am just saying, we have not seen the best of Jones, however we have seen what Smalling is capable of. Even if it was under a LVG system. Smalling was easily one of the best defenders in the world… definitely top 20ish… Jones even on current form I don’t think cracks top 20. But if we can get the best out of Jones and Smalling, and finally get the replacements to Rio and Vidic that we always hoped they would be, I would be ecstatic!
CARL: Top 20 in the world? Your opinion is your own and I respect it, but I don’t think Smalling has justified being regarded that highly. Maybe that’ll change but I’m not convinced. Smalling has improved on his ball-playing ability in the last couple of seasons but his game still needs improving more in that department too.
RICK: As Corey said, our formation with Carrick and Herrera in CM has helped the two CBs. Then Pogba is the third CM, who links up well with everyone. A commentator said it during one of our last two games. We have a formation but the players are free to roam around and they play a very fluid formation when we have the ball but when we defend everyone is very compact and does their bit defensively. If you look at the heat maps of all our players they are not strictly in one particular area. Their heat map is everywhere, especially the 3 CMs. This gives a lot of protection to the defence who basically just have to concentrate on defending and intercepting that final ball that may get through. They basically don’t get exposed.
So whilst I feel Rojo and Jones have been solid they haven’t been exposed and have been helped by collective defending. However I do feel that both Jones and Rojo have improved as defenders. Whether they can continue like this when we play teams like Chelsea, Liverpool, Man City will have to be seen. However I do agree with Corey about Jones. I still have reservations about him against a top team, whereas Smalling when back at his best is better than Jones on current form. Our best CB pairing is still Smalling and Bailly if we’re talking about when all are playing at their best.
CARL: Of course the midfield 3 helps, but Rojo and Jones have done plenty back there. They each had some really physical one to one bouts with Rondon against West Brom, and both came out on top barring one aerial chance about half an hour in. They shut down Benteke against Palace and Sanchez at Arsenal, I can’t think of one goal recently I could say either of those two were at fault for. Maybe the West Ham draw goal, but I don’t know, that looked more like Zlatan losing his man. I can’t find fault with them.
HEMOR: A Jones and Rojo partnership was the last thing I could imagine at the start of season but then injury came and they both stepped up their games. They were both fantastic against Spurs and I’m happy for them. However, we can’t expect this to last forever as Rojo will still make stupid tackles and he won’t be so lucky to get away with it, while Jones will probably jump into a tackle and get injured. If Rondon had scored his free header it would have exposed them, because one of them should have marked him but neither of them did and that must be addressed by Mourinho. You can’t both leave the striker to do what he wants, do that against a top striker and he’ll destroy you.
No partnership can be perfect after only few games together, though, so I’m sure with time if they both stay fit and they keep improving they’ll will have a good partnership. With Smalling not yet at his best this season and Bailly leaving for AFCON soon I think I would stick with this partnership unless it gets brutally exposed.
BETS: Yes the Rondon miss is a good example of very poor defending Jones and Rojo got away with, so I have to disagree that they haven’t done much wrong. But as they say, if you can’t be good, be lucky! You make a good point about AFCON, Hemor, that is probably why Mou’s not put Bailly straight back in the side – we will have to cope without him in January. That’s another reason why we need to strengthen at CB in the early part of the window.
FAB: I am really enjoying how things are going for Jones and Rojo and I am happy that Jones is finally managing to stay fully fit. Back in 2014, Rojo was doing well at LB but since he joined the club, I really can’t find anything in his performances to justify the choice made by LVG when signing him. However he seems to be more comfortable at CB and is putting in some good performances. I am yet to be convinced by him though, as in the last two games it seems like he is trying to get himself sent off. He should realize that we don’t have the luxury to get someone sent off, as another absence would affect our season. Marcos isn’t someone I can easily trust. As for Jones, I can only say one thing: if the guy stays away from injuries, he can be impressive. There’s no question that when Bailly gets back he will be first choice, but I at least want to see Jones get his chance and perform.
CARL: If the Lindelof deal is to happen then I can see Smalling being sold.
HEMOR: Smalling might not be sold, but Rojo might be.
DAN: We don’t need another CB as we have 4 very good young CBs. Jones in the last few games has shown moments of what he could be. He is a natural leader, comfortable with the ball at his feet, dominant in the air and strong in the tackle. He is also willing to put his body on the line. Rojo is looking better at CB than he ever has at LB. He is the typical South American defender. Then we have Smalling, who can’t get a game due injuries and the fine form of Jones and Rojo. Then we have Bailly who is going to be an absolute beast of a defender in the years to come.