Jones, De Gea and Welbeck – the future of United?

David de Gea, Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Danny Welbeck showed stunning displays of maturity in the Champions League draw with Real Madrid

(Getty)

(Getty)

It was a spine – goalkeeper, central defender, defensive midfielder and forward – handed great responsibility in this opening Champions League last-16 leg by Sir Alex Ferguson. They were to blunt Madrid’s attacking forces of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Angel dí Maria and Mesut Ozil while also nabbing a vital away goal, which Welbeck did with his fine 20th-minute header.

Jones is 20, Welbeck and De Gea are 22 while Evans at 25 also falls into the emerging player category as he begins to usurp the ageing Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic as Ferguson’s first-choice centre-back.

In the first minute of added time, he (Jones) twice blocked Ronaldo near his line when the ex-United man appeared certain to score his second and give Madrid the 2-1 win that would have tilted this tie their way. Jones had not finished: it was his lofted pass into Robin van Persie that nearly set up United’s own late winner though the Dutchman’s shot was saved by Diego López as the contest ended.

He is a born leader. In Vidic’s absence Patrice Evra wore the armband but this was a night when Jones announced his candidacy as Ferguson’s long-term on-field lieutenant. An illustration came early on when Jones crashed into a tackle on Ronaldo and Michael Carrick, his midfield partner, was tartly informed to stop congratulating him and get over to the right touchline to continue mucking in.

(Getty)

(Getty)

…But as Welbeck has shown for England the Mancunian is the man for the big occasion. Ferguson explained: “Along with [Wayne] Rooney we decided to do something different tactically and play them narrower to shut off the midfield so it was a job on a tactical basis that he did well.”

Here we see the deep trust Ferguson has in Welbeck not only to offer a greater attacking threat than Hernández, who ended the game as an unused substitute, but also as possessing maturity to play wide left and help stymie Ronaldo, Di María and company. Ferguson adds: “He was marvellous. Pity he got cramp at the end of the game, but he worked so hard. They found it difficult to handle him.”

(Getty)

(Getty)

De Gea’s evening was among the sweetest he has experienced in a United shirt following deep scrutiny of his form this season. The Spaniard, who played for Real’s city rivals Atlético Madrid before his transfer, filed a brilliant catalogue of saves. These included a dazzling fingertips effort that pushed Fábio Coentrão’s sixth-minute shot on to a post – at half-time on Sky Sports, Peter Schmeichel said he did not know how – and a second-half effort that De Gea repelled with his feet in a kind of flying kick.

The tie is far for over with Ronaldo sure to want more of a say at Old Trafford in three weeks’ time, where the Portuguese hopes to break his former mentor’s heart. Yet whatever the final result, Ferguson and United are boosted immensely by the Wednesday evening performance of his young guns.

Further satisfaction can be drawn when last season’s disastrous Champions League campaign is recalled. Then, United failed to participate post-Christmas as they failed to emerge from their group. Now, Ferguson’s next generation have grown up. They are not the future anymore. They are United’s present.

Read Phil Jones leads Manchester United’s thrilling fulfilment of promise on the Guardian website

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3 Comments on “Jones, De Gea and Welbeck – the future of United?”

  1. Prashant February 15, 2013 at 1:38 am #

    That pic with De Gea’s save- Perfect picture to describe this match!

    • Omer February 15, 2013 at 1:54 am #

      Haha yeah I know! Went through quite a bit but this was perfect!

      Second leg should be very interesting!

      • Prashant February 15, 2013 at 2:01 am #

        Second leg belongs to United. The source of this confidence: that smug on SAF’s face after the match! 😀

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