Should Chris Smalling start for Manchester United when all are fully fit?
Manchester United have made a strong start to the Premier League season under Jose Mourinho, with the Portuguese manager implementing his ideas and tactics on the squad quite nicely. With such a talented bunch of players at his disposal, it’s probably no surprise.
However, one guaranteed starter from last term who is yet to play this season, is Chris Smalling, despite enjoying undoubtedly the best form of his career over the last 12 months.
The English centre-back was the integral cog in an excellent defence throughout the Louis van Gaal era, but injury over the summer has meant a delayed start to the 2016/17 campaign. The question that therefore must be asked is whether he deserves a spot in the line-up once back to full fitness, and should he displace Daley Blind at the heart of Manchester United’s back four?
Smalling, 26, is currently linking up with the rest of the Three Lions for Allardyce’s first game in charge of England. According to the released team sheet, it seems as though both John Stones and Gary Cahill; regular performers for their respective sides this campaign, have edged him out of a starting berth against Slovakia in the World Cup qualifier.
This does not necessarily mean that he is unfit – he made the squad after all – but that a lack of match practice has significantly hindered his chances to make an early impression on the former West Ham United boss.
It certainly will be easy for him to displace either of The Red Devils’ current central defensive duo. Eric Bailly has been nothing short of sensational since his arrival over the summer. He has provided the back four with some real aggression and tough-tackling ability; something which they have lacked since Nemanja Vidic left the Theatre of Dreams.
Perhaps the centre-back slot that may be up for grabs is Daley Blind’s. Despite an excellent start to the campaign for the intelligent Dutchman, you feel that he doesn’t really fit Jose Mourinho’s typical defender mould. The new man in the Old Trafford hot-seat loves the tall and physical players in his teams, rather than the players of Blind’s stature, despite just how good he is in terms of his positioning on the field.
You feel that a combination of Chris Smalling and Eric Bailly will compliment each other excellently. The Englishman is good on the ball, and his calmness will shine through. The Ivorian is no-nonsense and absolutely loves a tackle. This pairing will be the way to go, but perhaps there is a starting spot for Daley Blind just in front of them as the holding midfielder.
Eventually, I think we will see Chris Smalling and Eric Bailly utilised as the long-term centre-back partnership, for the reasons mentioned above. For no, though, it makes sense to stick with what is working. Daley Blind and Eric Bailly have been outstanding at the start of this campaign, so it would be silly to change that, and Jose is hardly one to unnecessarily tinker with a winning team, preferring to nurture a small group of players.
Nevertheless, Mourinho is the type of manager to take each game on its merits, and there may well come a time when the opposition’s strengths dictate a return to the fray for Chris Smalling. All three of United’s primary options at centre-half will get plenty of game-time over the next few years, there is no doubt about that, so they must grab the opportunities when they come their way to avoid being displaced further down the line.
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