Chris Smalling has been one of the standout performers in Serie A so far this season and looks very much at home playing in Italy.
The United loanee opted to join Roma on a season-long loan to pursue first team football after knowing that the arrival of Harry Maguire and the emergence of Axel Tuanzebe would hamper his chances of featuring regularly.
The 29-year-old started 24 Premier League games last season, but instead of settling for cup appearances like Phil Jones, Smalling opted to test himself in a different league and environment at a big European club.
We may only be in November but it looks like the bold decision is paying real dividends and still at this stage of his career the move has helped him develop and improve as a player.
According to Sky Sports United haven’t received any bids from Roma as of yet, but if he keeps up his current high level of performances, Smalling will become a man highly sought after.
On the top of his game
Smalling has started seven matches in Serie A this season for Roma, with the club sitting third after only one defeat in 11 games.
Alongside Lazio’s Francesco Acerbi, Smalling is the only other Serie A centre back to have not been dribbled past when attempting a tackle so far this season.
Serie A has two of the best centre backs in the world in Matthijs de Ligt and Kalidou Koulibaly, but it is Smalling who is coming out on top in a direct head-to-head between the trio.
According to WhoScored, Smalling is winning 4.9 aerial duels per game, De Ligt is averaging 2 and Koulibaly is averaging 2.6.
Smalling is narrowly edging the Senegalese centre back when it comes to interceptions with 1.3 to 1.2, De Ligt is averaging 0.6.
Smalling, who was signed by Sir Alex Ferguson, has shown this season that he has a real knack for getting himself in the right position to take the pressure off his team.
The Englishman who has 31 caps for his country is making 4.7 clearances per game with Koulibaly registering 3 and De Ligt 4.4.
The man who started his senior career with Maidstone United is currently averaging 1.3 blocks per game, with the Napoli centre back averaging 0.9 and the Dutch prodigy futher back with 0.5.
WhoScored is currently rating Smalling’s performances in Serie A at 7.36 with Koulibaly on 6.87 and De Ligt 6.67.
After getting his first goal for the Giallorossi and becoming the first Englishman to score for the club against Udinese, Smalling produced a crucial match-winning moment against Napoli.
In the 28th minute, Lorenzo Insigne sent a free-kick into the box from the left, finding Giovanni Di Lorenzo at the back post.
The Napoli defender’s header had beaten Pau Lopez and was goal-bound, but Smalling showed his ability to sniff out danger to stretch out his left boot and get the ball clear.
It was a stunning intervention that preserved Roma’s one-goal lead in the match. They went on to win the game 2-1.
Even when Smalling isn’t producing top level performances he has still found himself in the limelight.
In a Europa League game he was left stunned after conceding a 95th minute penalty in Roma’s 1-1 draw with Borussia Monchengladbach – despite the ball hitting him in the face.
Could he force his way back into the United side?
It certainly seems the spot to partner Maguire at the heart of Manchester United’s defence is up for grabs.
Victor Lindelöf’s physical vulnerabilities have been exposed too frequently already this season and his performances have become nervy and a cause for concern.
Once Axel Tuanzebe returns from fitness he should be given a run of games to make that position his own and conjure up a dominating partnership alongside Maguire.
However, it seems at the moment that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will stick by Lindelöf through this tricky spell.
Could the Norwegian be regretting not giving Smalling the opportunity to stake his claim to complement Maguire ahead of the Swede?
Smalling has the upper hand on Lindelöf when it comes to key defensive traits such as physical strength, positional sense, strength in one-on-ones and aerial duels.
Smalling is averaging 4.9 aerial duels won per game, Lindelöf is winning 2.5. The Roma centre back is currently making 1.3 tackles, 1.3 interceptions, 4.7 clearances and 1.3 blocks per game.
On the other hand, United’s number two is averaging, 0.9 tackles, 0.7 interceptions, 3.3 clearances and 0.4 blocks.
Gareth Southgate alluded to the fact that Smalling doesn’t possess the ball-playing ability to fit his system at international level, but the Englishman is boasting impressive numbers with a pass accuracy of 90.7 per cent.
Distribution in possession is an area of Lindelöf’s game, which is meant to be significantly better then Smalling’s, but the former Benfica man has a pass success rate of 85.7%.
The 29-year-old signed a new contract at United, which still has two-and-a-half years left on it with the option of a further year, last December.
It’s difficult to see a way back for Smalling into Solskjaer’s side, his impressive start to the season will mean that Ed Woodward can crank up his asking price.
In Italy, Smalling’s discovering new functions to his game and can become an even more complete defender.
Smalling looks totally rejuvenated and Roma’s decision to sign him and replace their talisman Kostas Manolas is being vindicated with every passing game.
Smalling will never be known as a Rolls-Royce defender, he is quite old fashioned in the sense that if in doubt, he kicks it out.
United are missing Smalling’s no nonsense defending, but it would have to be a remarkable turn around to see him pull on that United jersey once again.
A return isn’t impossible though, especially if he maintains his current form throughout the campaign.
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