Ex-Spurs hero: Smalling could fill the void left by Vidic

Chris Smalling

Tottenham legend Garth Crooks was full of praise for Manchester United's Chris Smalling after their win over Liverpool.

Garth Crooks selected Manchester United defender Chris Smalling in his team of the week on the BBC website for the second time in a row after an impressive performance at Anfield on Sunday.

The 25-year-old defender helped keep Liverpool's attack from threatening for the majority of what was a fiercely competitive game, with the Red Devils emerging victorious 2-1 to solidify their top-four hopes.

Smalling's performance led to Crooks comparing him to United legend and former captain Nemanja Vidic, who departed Old Trafford last summer for Inter Milan after eight years and five Premier League trophies.

"I'm beginning to get the distinct feeling that Chris Smalling is a player at Manchester United who might fill the void left by former captain Nemanja Vidic's move to move to Inter Milan on a free transfer last summer," said Crooks.

"Last week Smalling took care of the threat posed by in-form Tottenham striker Harry Kane, and he did a similar job against Liverpool forward Daniel Sturridge in United's 2-1 win at Anfield.

"United boss Louis van Gaal may want a new centre-back for next season but Smalling might save the Dutchman a fortune."

The jury has been out for Smalling for much of his Old Trafford career, with the defender struggling to ever really nail down a regular spot in the defence of any of the Manchester United managers he has played for.

Under Sir Alex Ferguson, the former Fulham man never managed to reach 20 league games in a season, and although he played 25 times last year, it was far from a successful season in what was a continuously changing central defence at Old Trafford, while Smalling also played many of his games at full-back.

This year he has also been in and out of the team, with a couple of niggling injuries not helping his attempts to claim a regular spot under Louis van Gaal.

However, in recent weeks Smalling has managed to do just that, starting the last four games of which all have been wins, a run where just one goal has been conceded. 

Against both Spurs and Liverpool, Smalling and his England teammate Phil Jones were more solid than either have been for much of their United careers, and considering their ages, both are very much capable of becoming the quality defenders their early promise hinted at.

Calls for defensive reinforcements in the summer have persisted throughout much of the season, despite United having the third best defensive record in the league. If both Smalling and Jones can maintain their form until the end of the campaign, it may mean that Van Gaal can bring in a player to complement the defenders he already has at the club rather than replace them.

Though Smalling may have some way to go before he can compare himself to the powerful Serb that has marshalled much of United's recent success from the back, there is no doubt he is heading in the right direction, and the Londoner should remember that Vidic was around the same age when he arrived at Old Trafford, and that he also took some time to prove himself.

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