Phil Jones picked up a nasty ankle knock during the FA Cup victory over Reading which is likely to stop the Manchester United man from taking his place in the side for the return leg against Real Madrid at Old Trafford.
It is arguably one of the biggest injury blows that United could have been dealt in the run up to the match because no other United player can do the jobs Jones does, with the discipline he displays.
Jones is a defender at heart, that’s his best position, but he’s being used more and more by Sir Alex Ferguson as a defensive midfield player and someone in particular who can race around the pitch keeping individuals quiet.
“He has an outside chance for Real Madrid, no more than that. He [Jones] is a young man who went into a tackle too brave and was a bit off-balanced. We are working very hard, but he certainly won't be fit for the weekend,” Ferguson told the BBC.
United now have to find a way of compensating for his absence because they can’t gamble on his fitness, especially when he plays down the side of the pitch that Cristiano Ronaldo occupies.
Ferguson has to get Rafael some sort of protection. Although he’s a very good right back, Ronaldo is one of the best players in the world who finds ways of countering tactics which full backs use.
A good option could be to play Antonio Valencia just in front of Rafael because Valencia has been used at right back this season. It’s an extra piece of cover in a weak area of the team.
The problem that creates is that it will stretch the rest of the United team. Ferguson will want them to stay narrow because it’s easier to contain a side that dominates possession that way.
This makes sense because of the amount of running and movement the midfield will have to make with Ronaldo and various other Real Madrid stars switching the ball from side to side.
It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Ferguson will show Rafael a complete piece of faith and leave him an exposed to whoever plays down that side of the team.
If that’s the case then expect to see United playing with two out and out wingers who may not be so willing to track back and give the Brazilian some cover.
It’s a real dilemma for the club, what would you do?
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