Michael Carrick class shows his Manchester United team-mate Phil Jones is no holding midfielder

COMMENT: Injury to Chris Smalling saw Jones moved back to his more natural position and Carrick came in

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The Independent Football

Do not blame Phil Jones. It was not his fault he was adrift as a midfield anchor in Turin last night. It was not entirely Roy Hodgson’s either.

On the assumption that a deal was struck with Louis van Gaal not to start Michael Carrick, who has missed four months of the season with injury and only returned from his latest lay-off four weeks ago, he did not have many options at holding midfield. Indeed, in Carrick’s absence earlier this season Hodgson played Jack Wilshere in  the role.

Nor was this new, only the identity of the patsy has changed. A previous friendly in this city, in the Stadio delle Alpi 15 years ago, is best known for caretaker-manager Peter Taylor making David Beckham England captain. Less well remembered is Jamie Carragher coming on as an early substitute and playing an uncomfortable hour as holding midfielder.

A month earlier Kevin Keegan, on what proved his last match as manager as well as England’s last at the old Wembley, sent Gareth Southgate into the same void against Germany.

The English game used to breed midfield destroyers like Nobby Stiles and Peter Storey, but not any more. We like our midfielders with a bit of get-up-and-go, all-action heroes like Steven Gerrard.

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Phil Jones in action

 

The men who do the job in the Premier League are generally foreign: Nemanja  Matic, Fernandinho and Fernando, Lucas Leiva, Mathieu Flamini, Morgan Schneiderlin, Carlos Sanchez,  Mile Jedinak.

Gareth Barry plays there, but his England days are over. So does Mark Noble at times, but it seems his England days will never arrive. Tom Huddlestone, meanwhile, has not been capped since 2010.

There have not been many English players like Claude Makélélé, and though there is an argument that Glenn Hoddle preceded Andrea Pirlo’s redefining of the role, he was a one-off. Carrick, at present, is the best Hodgson has and England looked better balanced when he replaced Chris Smalling and Jones dropped back last night.

It was Jones’s defensive inadequacies which were being mocked on social media last night, and the moment Giorgio Chiellini skipped past him like a latter-day Franco Causio to set up Graziano Pelle’s goal will give him nightmares.

 

But just as problematic was that whenever he received the ball he passed sideways or backwards, and rarely first-time either. In an England side already lacking width that meant their attacking play was further stymied.

Carrick’s arrival put England on to the front foot as he switched play and probed forwards, always knowing the next pass as soon as he took possession.

Behind him Jones looked much happier too. It is easy to forget the Lancastrian is only 23, he seems to have been around so long. When he came through as an  18-year-old at Blackburn, Jones was seen as an outstanding prospect. His composure suggested it was not just because of his physique that he had been fast-tracked.

His subsequent capture by Manchester United was regarded as a coup, with Sir Alex Ferguson claiming he would become one of United’s “great” players.

However, his progress has been hampered by a propensity to incur injury, a certain clumsiness in the challenge, and his versatility.

As Phil Neville and Carragher have discovered in the past, being able to play solidly in a variety of positions ensures selection in a lot of squads, but not necessarily in the first XI. Jones has played right-back, centre-back and midfield for England without nailing down a place in any of those positions.

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Chris Smalling in action

 

Central defence looks his best position. He lacks the distribution to be a modern full-back and the finesse to play midfield, but his power is an asset in central defence  and he has been settling into a run there at Old Trafford.  Then came the call from Hodgson to reprise a role he last filled regularly under David Moyes more than a  year ago.

If friendlies are a time to experiment, at least Hodgson has found out, more than a year before Euro 2016, that playing Jones in the midfield holding role does not work. Which means much rests on Carrick staying fit for 15 months. But when Euro 2016 finishes he will be on the brink of his 35th birthday. Then what?

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