Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are the future of Manchester United. You've heard that before, haven't you?
In January 2010, the Red Devils secured the signing of Smalling, following it up with the purchase of Jones in the summer of 2011.
They arrived in Manchester as two of the most exciting young defenders in England and they were tipped to replace the legendary duo of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic at the heart of the club's defence.
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With Sir Alex Ferguson in charge and the world-class Ferdinand and Vidic guiding them through their paces at Old Trafford, it appeared likely that they would one day become a concrete centre-half pairing.
However, things haven't exactly gone to plan for either player. At times, Jones hasn't known whether he's coming or going. In the team one week and out of it the following one.
He's occupied near enough every possible defensive position over the course of the last few years, so it hasn't been entirely surprising that he's been rather inconsistent. Injuries haven't helped, either; he has been struck down by all sorts under Ferguson, David Moyes and Louis van Gaal.
In truth, it has been a similar story for Smalling; injuries have played a part in his struggle while a lack of confidence has been there for all to see. There was a huge turning point for the England international, however.
As the Red Devils succumbed to a 1-0 defeat in the Manchester derby back in November 2014, Smalling was seen as the scapegoat after he picked up a first-half red card.
However, that incident is now well and truly in the past. Throughout the second half of last season, Smalling was a model of consistency and was a key member of the team that took the Red Devils back into the Champions League.
He has been just as good this season and has established himself as the leader of the club's back four. If you forget the dismal day at the Emirates before the international break, Smalling has hardly put a foot wrong all season.
Over to Jones: Unlike Smalling, the ex-Blackburn Rovers man still hasn't been able to hold down a regular place in Van Gaal's side. Once again, Jones has been out of luck. A blood clot in his calf kept him out for a lengthy period this term, but he returned to the starting XI against Everton at Goodison Park this past weekend.
Jones and Smalling impressed as they comfortably contained the robust figure of Romelu Lukaku. They were cool and comfortable throughout proceedings and the towering Belgium international failed to stamp his mark on the game.
They have the attributes to succeed, but it's crucial they stay fit. Time remains on their side, however; Jones is still only 23-years-old while Smalling is still some way off his prime at 25.
Perhaps, then, it's time for the English duo to step up and prove their credentials week in, week out under the Dutch regime. They must now express themselves and finally come to prominence. A certain Manchester derby next weekend can show just how far they have come.
Do you agree? Is it time for Smalling and Jones to become key players in Manchester? Have your say below!
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