Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have been highly touted as the future of Manchester United ever since Sir Alex Ferguson signed the English defenders from Fulham and Blackburn Rovers respectively.
But are they producing their potential?
Chris Smalling joined United from Fulham in 2010, just 2 years after leaving non-league Maidstone United.
Smalling’s mountain climb from non-league to often Manchester United and England first choice centre-back is undoubtedly as impressive, if not more, than Jamie Vardy’s rise to winning the Premier League with Leicester City.
However Sir Alex’s signing was expected to become a standout at United, an ideal replacement for Rio Ferdinand. Despite making himself first choice under Louis van Gaal and gaining the club’s 2015/16 players’ player of the season award, I think Chris Smalling is falling short of his potential and has been for too long.
Phil Jones joined from Blackburn Rovers after being highly touted as the next John Terry, United beat off rivals for his signature and was again seen as one of England’s most promising defenders. Jones like Smalling has shown a lot of good for the red devils but again has not quite fulfilled that star promise.
Former England manager Fabio Capello claimed Jones was “born with talent.” After he made his England debut v Montenegro in Euro 2012 qualification, a 2-2 draw. In 2013, Sir Alex Ferguson claimed Jones could become United’s ‘best ever player’.
As a defender looking to compete at the very highest level, consistency is required. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, with all the talent they have, lack consistency.
They often produce phenomenal tackles and bravery (specifically Jones) but it doesn’t appear to come game after game, rather frustratingly. At Manchester United too, the demands are so high and you’re required to be comfortable on the ball!
It’s hard to feel reassured as the ball is played to either of the two under the slightest bit of pressure. Both are suspect inside the box and make the occasional needless foul.
Smalling has been sent off in an FA Cup final with the score level before Jesse Lingard’s extra time winner v Crystal Palace at Wembley, he’s been sent off for two silly incidents on a Manchester derby that cost United any chance, he needs to become more disciplined in those type of games.
This category refers mostly to Phil Jones, 25, who’s spent a lot of time on the sidelines during his career at Old Trafford.
Costing him a regular spot in the England squad and until last season there was increasing belief he was becoming a lost cause at the club and many expected him to be heading out of the exit door.
In fairness, since Jose Mourinho was appointed manager Jones’ seems a lot less susceptible to injuries and has maintained his fitness well and improved a lot defensively too, though the signs are still there.
Ideally, I think Manchester United should be looking at shifting Smalling out this summer and maybe Jones in the long run, though Jones’s performances in the past season, I believe, warrants another chance at United and I’d be more willing for United to keep him around than with Chris.
I do understand though that maybe Mourinho will want to keep both, given last season’s schedule and the need for numbers, especially after confirming we might need to play with a back 3 against certain clubs in the approaching campaign.
Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof can be the partnership United fans have desired at Old Trafford since the days of Rio Ferdinand and former captain Nemanja Vidic.
Written by Jordan Hackett
Follow Jordan on Twitter @DevilDart180
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