Manchester United should put faith in Chris Smalling and Phil Jones

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Continually since Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand's decline at Manchester United, a constant stream of world class centre-backs have been linked with moves to Old Trafford.

While few United fans would be able to resist the likes of Raphael Varane or Mats Hummels joining the club, I think Louis van Gaal should resist the temptation to spend big this summer to bolster United's centre of defence and continue his faith in the Chris Smalling - Phil Jones partnership.

Though I'm sure the Old Trafford hierarchy and fans would love to see a big name come in to fill the void which was left by Vidic and Ferdinand a couple of seasons ago, I would love to see LvG continue giving Smalling and Jones their chance to finally prove themselves after so many years of promise which they have failed to fulfil.

At last

It has taken almost half a decade, but they finally seem to be hitting their stride for United. As much as the wonderful performances this month have been because of our midfield dominating: Michael Carrick controlling games, Ander Herrera's all action performances matched by his ability on the ball, Marouane Fellaini's physical dominance in midfield or Wayne Rooney's long awaited return to the striking berth, I think they have just as much been aided by Smalling and Jones' partnership.

Of course, there have been shaky moments, not least in the first 15 minutes against City in that fantastic win, but aside from a few brief moments of hesitancy and nerves, their performances have proven to me, and I hope many other United fans, that as so many thought five years ago, these two (English) centre-halves have the ability to fill the Ferdinand-Vidic void.

What I like most is that, like Ferdinand and Vidic, this combination provides both grit and ability. Though I have often been derided for this opinion, I think Smalling can become a top-quality ball playing defender.

His passing ability isn't quite a match for Ferdinand's at his peak, but his ability to bring the ball out when he is playing with confidence is clear and, with confidence which comes from starting games, his ability to pick a pass will improve.


What has most impressed about Smalling, particularly against City, he does not let his head drop or allow his nerves to get to him when things go wrong, but continues to play with confidence and serenity.

He is providing that calmness at the back, though Michael Carrick is crucial to this also, Smalling's pace and developing ability to read the game allow him to cover for Jones when his aggression gets the better for him.

His pace and physicality (he's deceptively fast) also work in his favour, but it is that calmness (when playing well) which I think is his best attribute. Though the comparison is hesitant, he's similar to a young Ferdinand, combining pace, reading of the game and ability to step up with the ball.


Jones on the other hand can be United's "warrior". Like Vidic, he's happy to put his head where it hurts and put his body on the line. But this is coupled with technical defensive ability as well as ability on the ball (which his brief spells in midfield prove).

Though at times he looks a bit like a bull charging towards opponents, this aspect of his game will improve, and it's certainly not a bad thing for a quality defender to want to step up, be aggressive and win the ball early. His ability to read the game and judge situations will improve with experience and age, allowing him to better assess the right times for aggression, and the right times to drop off.

Together, these two have all the makings of a top quality centre-back partnership. One half being calm and technical, with the ability to read the game and cover with their pace, while the other is aggressive, being able to win the ball early and set United on the front foot.

Furthermore, both are tall and solid in the air, and I can see Jones going on to become the dominant force Vidic was in the air for United if his development continues.

I think one of the greatest credits to Van Gaal is his willingness to show faith in these two, who Sir Alex Ferguson believed would be England's centre-back pairing for the coming decade when he signed them.

As all United fans know, in Sir Alex we trust, and, if they can stay fit for a season together (which is a big if), I believe they have the ability to justify the faith shown in them by both managers, who know a thing or two about football, and developing raw talent in particular.

A final benefit is that they're both English, and while it's great to see foreign talent gracing the Premier League and the Old Trafford pitch, I'd love to see United develop these two Englishmen into the world-beating centre-back partnership I believe they can become.

Manchester United fans: should Van Gaal continue to put faith in Smalling and Jones? Let us know below!

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Premier League
Phil Jones
Manchester United
Louis van Gaal
Chris Smalling

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