According to a new study compiled by CIES Football Observatory, Europe’s best central defender aged 23 and under is not Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane or Jose Gimenez of Atletico. Instead it is Manchester United defender Phil Jones!
BEST U23 CENTRAL DEFENDERS
1 – Phil Jones (Man Utd)
2 – Jose Gimenez (Atletico Madrid)
3 – Raphael Varane (Real Madrid)
=4 – Marquinhos (PSG)
=4 – Stefan de Vrij (Lazio)
6 – Tin Jedvaj (Leverkusen)
7 – Niklas Sule (Hoffenheim)
8 – Michael Keane (Burnley)
9 – Jores Okore (Aston Villa)
10 – Shkodran Mustafi (Valencia)
Jones credited United boss Louis van Gaal for his improved play this season, saying in an interview last month that:
‘Every player is well aware of the philosophy of the manager and the way he wants his teams to play.
‘I think that’s why we’ve been hitting such good form lately. Every player now understands their role in the team. It’s more stable.
‘Players know what they’re doing, day in, day out. Players like routines. They like to know what they’re doing in the week and in training.’
Another interesting name on the list from a Man United perspective is Burneley’s Michael Keane. Keane, the brother of United striker Will, was named as Manchester United’s Reserve Player of the Year in 2012. But van Gaal obviously did not rate him and he joined Burnley on a permanent deal in January.