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19/02/2014 09:31, Report by B Hibbs & M Singh
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Smalling makes his mark

In this feature, we turn the spotlight on an in-form United player. Here, we assess the quietly impressive recent performances of Reds defender

Chris Smalling

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Status Since arriving at Old Trafford from Fulham in 2010, Chris Smalling has had to be patient for regular opportunities at the heart of the Reds' defence, his most natural position, as Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic ruled the roost. Previously, injuries or rest time for those two experienced men offered up game time in his favoured role, while outings at right-back were gladly totted up. Smalling displayed his adaptability during the clean sheet display against Arsenal, starting in the centre and moving out to the right when Rafael's injury brought Ferdinand into the fray. Injuries at key times during three-and-a-half years as a Red stymied his involvement, but he has matured physically and professionally and is beginning to shine in his own right, holding down a place in a central position he clearly intends to make his own.

Style Even when stationed out on the flanks Smalling applies himself dutifully, but it's clear the 24-year-old's talents are best placed as a more cerebral centre-half – reading the game, anticipating attacks and positioning himself in the right place to clear up danger with a calmness only top defenders possess. On form, he looks every bit the natural descendent of Rio's regal brand of cultured defending, and that is evidenced as he currently keeps Ferdinand out of the team. Former United and Stoke defender Danny Higginbotham says in our video, "Chris can go as far as he wants to go."

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