When United got their hands on the world’s most expensive defender and shipped out Chris Smalling to Italy on loan, the general thought was that Solskjaer was probably doing away with bad eggs and it looked a good move on paper. A few months later, forgotten man Chris Smalling is looking like a star in Rome, while Maguire and co. looking just look like the “Smalling” that was loaned out in the first place, rotting away in 14th place in the table. How have United allowed that to happen?
With Maguire and Victor Lindelöf joining forces at the back, United have found themselves considerably closer to a relegation battle than to a fight for the top four. Their attack has been bitterly disappointing, seeing how they only scored five goals in the last eight gams, but the aforementioned defensive partnership has hardly looked much better.
Two clean sheets in the Premier League is simply not good enough, but enough about that. Much has been said about United’s current problems, but ideas about how to rectify them have not been as common.
They could turn to the transfer market to find one of the top performers in Europe, but their scouts’ data would only highlight Smalling. The 29-year-old has been firing on all cylinders with Roma, dominating opponents and bringing some much-needed stability to Paulo Fonseca’s defence.
Chris Smalling: Is winning more aerial duels per game (5.8) than any other player in Serie A this season
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) October 25, 2019
He has had the impact in Rome which Maguire was supposed to have in Manchester. Quite simply, United need someone like Smalling.
Statistics have also shown it can indeed be greener on the other side, as it has been in this case for Smalling. As per Whoscored, the English defender averaged 1.3 tackles, 1.1 interceptions, 4.4 clearances and one block per game last season with Manchester United. This season, he has done all things better and currently stands at 1.8 tackles, 1.5 interceptions, five clearances and 1.3 blocks per 90. In terms of passing as well, he’s also averaging 64 passes and 0.3 key passes with an accuracy of 92.2%, which once again is better than his last season’s numbers of 39.8 passes and 0.1 key passes with an accuracy of 86.2%. Highlighting how he has simply been a better player so far this season.
But then do Manchester United need Chris Smalling? Probably not.
Don’t get it twisted, Smalling was nowhere near good enough for United in the past few seasons. He made far too many mistakes, he was caught out of position with alarming regularity and he played a part in plenty of United’s poor defensive performances, as evidenced by his rather underwhelming stats above. He will almost certainly not be coming back.
The Red Devils have moved on. Understandably, they grew tired of Smalling’s poor form, and now Maguire and Lindelöf look set to be United’s preferred partnership for the future. Smalling had his chance.
However, there must be a few frustrated (and confused) officials at Old Trafford who have watched Smalling outperform both their centre-back stars so far this year.
It almost seems like the very real threat of being discarded permanently has lit a fire under Smalling, who is taking his chance to prove that he actually is good enough to bring something to a top side.
This does not look like the Smalling we knew, but rather one with something to offer once more.
With Roma planning to make his stay permanent, Smalling looks to be nearing the final exit door at Old Trafford. However, If he does maintain this current level, there will probably be plenty of other interested sides as well, but United should at least consider trying to keep him around.