Date: 26th April 2013 at 3:38am
Written by:
Phil Jones

Jones: A contender?

At last. We’ve done it. Title 20 is in the bag, and what a brilliant show our lads have put in this season. From beginning the campaign with a 1-0 defeat at Goodison Park, Fergie’s side have undoubtedly shown rest of the league just how important claiming the Premier League title back from the blue side of Manchester is.

With such a diversity of line-ups this season within all competitions we have seen the progression of various players. Many have really proved their worth with real improvement, and with one or two changing the opinions of many fans.

Red Flag Flying High readers have been busy picking their Player Of The Season, but who is our most improved player this term?  Picking out one player is difficult, but we’ve got a good few contenders…

David

When De Gea was signed from Atlético Madrid back in 2011, many weren’t even sure who he was. It’s safe to say that the keeper has had some big gloves to fill, a job which has tried and tested the 22 year-old in ways he could never have imagined. At the beginning of his career in Manchester, the Spaniard’s position was in doubt, as with a difficult change from La Liga to English football, de Gea experienced a serious culture shock. The keeper was constantly in the media, whether he performed well or not, with fans even wanting him to head back to Spain before his first season was completed.

It is safe to say that the Premier League is physically demanding, a stark contrast to La Liga. From a football culture which is focused on skill and flair, where powerful passes and low crosses are predominant, de Gea was transferred into a fast and furious league with sharp, quick counter attacks and high balls. It is clear that this season de Gea has dealt with the physical changes necessary in order to adapt to this new style of play. One example would be ’s Champions League clash with Real Madrid. His clear experience and knowledge, not only of Spanish football, but of Madridista football, ensured that his performance was significant, as despite the two goals conceded, de Gea looked confident, comfortable and composed.

It certainly hasn’t been an easy ride for de Gea, and he still has a way to go in winning over fans, but this season he  has demonstrated that he is definitely on the right track. The continued support from his manager, along with various other professionals within the sport have clearly encouraged the Spaniard to silence his critics and prove that he really does deserve that ‘Number One’ jersey.

The baby-faced Brazilian is certainly a candidate for Manchester United’s most improved player this season. He has certainly come a long was from his red card just over three years ago in a Champions League quarter-final tie against Bayern Munich. The Brazilian’s future was once questioned after various high-profile errors. But as what can only be described as an excellent campaign for the 22 year old comes to an end, he has undoubtedly proved just why he has made over thirty appearances for the Reds in this season.

The youngster has certainly stood out, making the right-back position his own with a combination of energy and passion along with concentration and composure. In previous seasons Rafael was defined by his impulsive nature, but he has really proved his critics wrong over the past few months. One thing that always impresses me about the Brazilian is his ability to not only maintain a solid position in defence, but to surge forward powerfully. He has a willingness to impress and always commits to the cause, with new-found consistency and confidence upfront. A great example would be his astonishing 25 yard strike at Loftus Road, demonstrating the youngsters brilliant style and substance.

Rafael is definitely developing into a mature young right-back. Over the last season his concentration has been commendable and with such skill at such a young age our new number 2 looks like he won’t be giving up his jersey anytime soon.

Tom

This season has certainly been a ‘coming of age’ one for Tom Cleverley. Since 2011 he has been part of Fergie’s plans, with the Scotsman identifying him as a potential home-grown replacement for Scholes when he retired before the 2011/12 season. After loan spells at Leicester City, Watford and Wigan Athletic, he began making regular appearances for the Reds. His midfield roles have become more advanced, linking defence and attack – however injury meant he was out for months at various points.

This season he has undoubtedly gained experience, not only for club but for country too. Cleverley has gained a vital understanding of the Champions League along with scoring goals in the Capital One Cup and the Premier League. After impressing for Team GB at the 2012 Olympics, the 23 year old has become an important part of England’s 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying games. His performance against San Marino in October 2012 even broke a record, with Cleverley making 165 touches during the game, the highest ever recorded for an England player. His partnership with Carrick against the likes of Real Madrid and Chelsea have demonstrated that Cleverley is on his way in becoming a key player within the Reds. This season he has become more reliable, along with tidier passing and accuracy, being only one of seven midfielders to have completed 90% of his passes in the Premier League.

In the past Cleverley has been likened to Cesc Fabregas’ playing style. He not only passes well like the Spaniard but moves off the ball, making space for himself and tends to not give the ball away. With this comparison along with the youngster’s strong work ethic, his future with the Reds looks rather bright.

Phil Jones

One of Manchester United’s most important and most improved players this season has been Phil Jones. From the beginning of his career with the Reds he has been deemed a “jack of all trades” with his ability to play in various positions. His versatility has been present from day one. Jones’ performance against Bolton Wanderers in September 2011 is a prime example in which he provided various assists along with his own attack, dribbling past various defenders in United’s 5-0 victory.

Since then his physical power has increased immensely. Thanks to his stocky build he is able to assert serious physical power upfront along with solid tackles. His commitment has been outstanding, earning him a place in various games such as United’s Champions League clash with Real Madrid. His comfort in a variety of roles along with his physical presence means that his opposition find it difficult to ‘bully’ him off the ball, and his performance against Ozil and Ronaldo at the Bernabeu were a testimony to this.

Jones’ improvement this season has been outstanding. Despite injuries leaving him out of the squad at the beginning of the season he has still managed to make an impact. His confidence within various positions shows his natural skill and ability. With Fergie even hinting at Jones becoming a future captain for the Reds I personally look forward to seeing him improve even more with each season.

Do you find it any easier to pick a stand-out most improved player?  Let’s here what you have to say in the comments box below.

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