Paul Parker

Jones the cream of the crop

Paul Parker

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Manchester United's young players have started the season impressively but comparisons with the Fergie Fledglings of 1995 are premature. That famous crop - including David Beckham, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes - came into a very physically demanding environment that was daunting for a young player.

You had to be mentally stronger back then and by comparison it is easier for the new vanguard of talent to make their way in the Premier League. You cannot draw comparisons at present, as I believe the players of that era were more talented than the ones currently at Sir Alex's disposal.

But in what is undoubtedly a talented bunch, the leading member of Fergie's youngsters is by far and away Phil Jones. He already looks like he has been at Manchester United for years and I think Rio Ferdinand will have a real problem dislodging him from the side when he returns from injury.

Jones is just as quick as Rio and I think he is better with the ball at his feet. He is also more decisive with his passing and doesn't try to attempt things that are beyond him. He doesn't try to be too clever.

At the age of just 19 he is a huge talent. He could even be better than Nemanja Vidic as he has pace as well. It will be difficult to leave him out, but I have to say that Jonny Evans has been excellent as well this season. Particularly considering he was absolutely awful last term.

I don't want to jump in too quickly to add to all the praise that has been coming the way of Manchester United's young side. Their second-half performance against West Brom was not very impressive but they performed when it mattered against Tottenham on Monday, even if they didn't really get going until the second half.

Tottenham did not really threaten to win the game and offensively United looked more creative in one game than they did in maybe ten last season. They had more threat and looked like they were a team that had plenty of goals in them. That wasn't always the case last season.

Tom Cleverley doesn't have a lot of experience, but he does have the appetite to go and prove himself. With him in the side alongside Anderson, they look a lot more hungry and a lot more creative. Michael Carrick slows the pace down when he plays in midfield and United have benefitted from dropping him. He has won plenty of trophies at Old Trafford but he is still some way short of looking like Manchester United's No. 1 midfielder as he has failed to make himself indispensable.

Danny Welbeck is full of confidence at the moment which explains why he is staying in the side ahead of Dimitar Berbatov. To be honest I thought Welbeck was actually quite poor against Tottenham until he scored the goal, and I was surprised he was named man of the match because his overall performance wasn't actually that good. United can definitely improve up front and Chicharito will come back into the side when he is ready. He is sharper around the goal and will be more consistent than Welbeck.

Another young man, Chris Smalling, was excellent at right-back in the Community Shield but he didn't quite maintain those standards against West Brom. He did okay against Tottenham but I still don't think he has made the impact that Jones has. The man signed from Blackburn is the cream of the crop.

It is slightly ironic that Sir Alex Ferguson is receiving all this praise for bringing through young players when his opposite number on Sunday, Arsene Wenger, gets hammered for it. The difference is that the United players emerge with a strong mentality - something that Arsenal lack all over the pitch.

The Arsenal kids are more technically gifted but they don't have the drive, the desire to win trophies, that is a product of a Manchester United education. Arsenal players don't know how to get stuck in and it is a completely different ethos. Arsenal are more concerned with how to approach the game, United are more concerned with what you get out of it.

Clearly the match at Old Trafford is the game of the weekend, so there is no need to identify a different one just to be contrary. It is a huge game for Arsenal as a defeat would leave them with only one point from their opening three games, and already eight points behind United.

Arsenal just have to accept that this is a season they will have to endure, rather than enjoy. A defeat obviously won't end their title hopes, but it will call their ability into question once again. I just can't see any way that they will win at Old Trafford in all honesty.

Upset of the weekend: Chelsea v Norwich

There is no obvious potential upset this weekend, so I am going to pick this game at Stamford Bridge, purely because I think it is a game in which we will catch Chelsea at a crossroads.

The signing of Juan Mata indicates that Andre Villas-Boas wants to inject a bit of imagination and width into the team, which Chelsea are crying out for.

As such, we might see a subtle shift in the way they play, even if the new man from Valencia starts on the bench as expected.

He might be the man who helps transform Chelsea from a bit of a stale side. They have been bland for years, keeping it solid through the middle, so Mata might help them flourish in wide areas and add a bit of excitement.

As that transition starts to happen, perhaps Norwich will have a chance of getting a result. I wouldn't bank on it though.

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