Chris Smalling is a player who divides opinions between Manchester United fans, some see him as the clubs best centre back, whilst others view him as nothing more than an average defender who could be improved upon. So is Smalling good enough for United?
To start this off I do remember how good Smalling was at the start of last season, when him and Daley Blind formed an unlikely partnership at the back. Between the season opener against Tottenham on the 8th August 2015 until the goalless draw against West Ham on the 5th December 2015 it could be argued that Chris Smalling was a world-class defender. He played 15 Premier League games in this period and made nine defensive actions on average per game as United managed to keep nine clean sheets and have one of the best defences in the league for that period. Squawka also gave him a performance score of 487 for this time-period.
However, he then picked up an injury which ruled him out of the 2-1 defeat to Bournemouth on the 12th December 2015, and after missing this game he never seemed the same defender again. United managed to keep eight more clean sheets in the other 20 games that Smalling played in, only keeping clean sheets in 40% of the games that Smalling played in between the 19th December 2015 and the 17th May 2016, compared to 60% of the time in the opening 15 games. Squawka also noticed a downturn in Smalling’s form as for the spell between his December return and the end of the season he only received a performance score of 295. A decrease of 192, despite having played five more times in the second period of the season.
The current campaign has been an injury plighted season thus far for Smalling, but when he has played he is still yet to show the tremendous form that he showed that he was capable of at the start of last season. In the seven Premier League appearances, he has made so far Squawka have awarded him a performance score of just 96, even having a -26 score game in the 4-0 defeat to Chelsea last month, where he was arguably at fault for all of the goals conceded.
This all leads me to believe that Smalling is not as good as he seemed at the start of last season, and his form was just that, form. He is an average player, playing above his usual performance level for a period o time. However, form is temporary and he has now returned to the average performance level that he showed for both David Moyes and Sir Alex Ferguson since his arrival at the club. So I think that in order for United to challenge for the title and perhaps even the Champions League it is imperative that a new centre back is signed in the near future.
One defender who would be a great addition to Jose Mourinho’s side would be Virgil Van Dijk. Van Dijk has been nothing but impressive since joining Southampton from Celtic 18-months-ago, and the fact that he plays for the Saints shows that if United do an interest in signing the Dutchman then the transfer could probably be pulled off, as they have shown in the past they are willing to let key players leave if the price is right. Van Dijk outperformed Smalling last season and is currently out performing him again this year. Smalling average Squawka performance score was 22.37 per game last year, Van Dijk’s was 35.69. he also won 1.33 tackles per game compared to Smalling’s 1.11. So far, this season Van Djik has made 2.33 interceptions per game whilst Smalling has made 0.98.
I think the stats above show how there are better defenders in the league than Smalling, who would be more than capable of replacing him at Old Trafford. I don’t think that Smalling is good enough to build a title-winning team around, and that has got to be the aim at United, so therefore he needs to be replaced. Eric Bailly looked great before his injury this season, and the potential of a Bailly and Van Dijk partnership in defence brings back memories of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. Smalling could still be a useful back up option at United, but he can not justify a place in the starting XI any longer, and with rumours that United are looking for a new defender, his days at the club could be numbered.