Chris Smalling's Roma loan move remains the right decision

Phil Jones and Chris Smalling broke into the Manchester United first team around the same time and were supposed to marshall the defence for club and country for years to come.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way for either man, with both out of Gareth Southgate’s England plans.

And they endured very different Sundays. Jones was bullied by Lys Mousset before being hooked at half time during United’s 3-3 draw with Sheffield United.

Meanwhile, Smalling was grabbing more positive attention during his loan spell with Roma in Serie A.

Top performer

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Roma saw off Brescia 3-0 last Sunday and Smalling opened the scoring four minutes after half time.

He topped off his afternoon’s work with an assist for Gianluca Mancini’s goal, and looks to be enjoying life in Italy.

His display was so good that he topped WhoScored’s European Player of the Week ratings, seeing off Lionel Messi with a rating of 9.69.

Roma are fifth in the league, with three straight Serie A wins to their name, and Smalling has been a key part of that.

Solskjaer still right to let him leave

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was always going to go with Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof as his first choice central defensive duo this season, leaving Smalling in reserve.

And while he was there, he would have been a tempting comfort blanket to reach for, despite having proven time and again that he is uncomfortable under concerted pressure and unable to play out from the back effectively.

Smalling’s presence would likely have blocked Axel Tuanzebe breaking into the first time picture this season and the former Aston Villa loanee is a player with a far higher ceiling.

Goals and assists may draw viral attention on Twitter but Serie A is a league where football is played at a slower pace and defenders can defend their penalty box deep without many other worries.

That, as well as getting away from the pressure cooker of Old Trafford, suits Smalling down to the ground, proving it was right to let him go somewhere he could shine – he wouldn’t have done that at United.

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Sam Preston is an NCTJ gold standard news and sports journalist who studied with the Press Association. He also has a 2:1 law with French law degree from the University of Birmingham, which included a year studying at Bordeaux Montaigne University. He is an FA Level 1 football coach who appeared on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show in 2018 and has also written digital football content and match-day programme pieces for Colchester United, Mansfield Town and Stockport County.