Solskjaer's Old Trafford return with his new club, but Smalling's performance typified his recent form: going about his game quietly, confidently and with a touch of class.
Statement of intent "All strikers get hyped so it's nice to keep them quiet. I get a lot of confidence from keeping good players quiet. I enjoy a last-ditch tackle or clearance – if a striker is one-on-one with the goalkeeper or has got in behind the defence and you get back and outmuscle them or slide in, it's a great feeling because the crowd appreciates that." – Chris Smalling, December 2013
Statistics Smalling has started 12 out of United's last 14 games, indicating his prominent standing in the team. And although among seven wins there have been two draws and five defeats, two of those losses were matches he didn't start. He has also contributed to five clean sheets in that spell. Against Cardiff at Old Trafford, he completed 40 out of 42 passes and had impressive defensive figures on tackles (3/3), clearances (10/10) and headed clearances (7/7). As ever with stats, the numbers only tell part of the story; Smalling is emerging as a centre-back of both style and substance.