Phil Jones could miss the Real Madrid tie because of illness.
"Jones picked up shingles and there's not a lot we can do about it. It's a shame because it makes us stronger when Phil's here, that's for sure. But it gives someone else a chance."
- Stuart Pearce
The versatile defender and midfielder had initially been called into Stuart Pearce's U-21 England side for a midweek international versus Sweden but he was withdrawn after being unavailable for United's match versus Fulham at the weekend. There was no word after the match or over the weekend as to why this was, but manager Sir Alex Ferguson did hint that Jones might not be available this summer for the U-21 European Championship because of a lingering knee issue.
Jones has been a valuable player as of late for United because of his versatility. The 20-year-old has made it clear that he prefers to be a central-defender and while he's recently made his case for regularly featuring in this role after strong performances, he's also put in admirable shifts at both right-back and in central-midfield. Against Tottenham Hotspur last month, he played an important tactical role in midfield as the zone he occupied allowed him to provide inside cover against the dangerous Gareth Bale and he was also able to patrol this space when Moussa Dembele made driving runs forward. This was perhaps the role Ferguson envisioned for the Englishman against Cristiano Ronaldo in United's upcoming UEFA Champions League tie with Real Madrid.
If this diagnosis of shingles is confirmed, this is a big blow for United. At this moment in time, Jones is essentially depth and cover for the defenders: United are generally fine in central-defense with the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Jonny Evans, and Chris Smalling as options while the latter can also deputise for Rafael at right-back when needed. It's in central-midfield, though, where he offers something that no other player on the United squad does: his combative and energetic presence helps shield and screen for technical midfielders like Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley. This would be a valuable option to have against Madrid and their talented midfield.
It's hardly a big deal that Jones -- who has already been capped five times by England's senior side -- would be unavailable for a U-21 match in the heart of United's season. Quite frankly, Ferguson would have used a minor excuse such as a bruised fingernail to get his player out international duty. Shingles, though, is something to be worried about. If this diagnosis is confirmed by United this week, then the player is likely out at least a fortnight, if not longer as previously mentioned. This could mean he would miss next week's Madrid tie at the Bernabeu. If no official statement is released from the club on this matter, then look for questions to be asked at Ferguson's weekly Friday morning press conference.