Chris Smalling's performances of late have brought about a dramatic change in perception among the majority of Manchester United fans. By now it's well known to the footballing world that the Englishman has four goals this season - more than Liverpool's Mario Balotelli - but it is his defensive displays that will have impressed the more astute onlookers over recent weeks.
The days of derby shame and simple errors appear long gone, and as his weekend performance against arch-rivals City has perhaps proved, he is fast becoming a player capable of making a real impact at Old Trafford; perhaps even emulating the achievements of predecessors Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.
On Saturday the 25 year-old comes up against another player whose career achievements he will surely dream of replicating; Chelsea captain John Terry. With the Red Devils preparing to face off against the division's runaway leaders, Smalling will be in direct competition with his opposite number and compatriot for defensive supremacy.
|Aerial Duels Won per Game||Tackles Won per Game||Duel Success (%)||Interceptions Won per Game||Effective Clearances per Game||Total Passes per Game||Pass Success (%)||Defensive Errors per Game||Appearances|
The Opta Stats provide us with some indication as to who will emerge as the most influential defender in this clash. If nothing else, the numbers suggest a clear difference in the duo's style of defending.
Chelsea's Terry holds a clear advantage when it comes to his duel success, having emerged victorious in more of his attempts to win possession this season, both in his aerial contests (2.7 to 2.6) and tackles (1.1 to 0.9).
However, Smalling maintains a clear edge in terms of his ability to break down opposition advances through intercepting the ball. He has done so more than twice as many times as Terry this term, while he has also averaged a greater number of effective clearances (6.1 to 5.6)
There's little to split the duo in terms of their passing capabilities. Terry boasts a slightly improved completion rate. Smalling, meanwhile, has managed one pass a game more (44 to 43) than his compatriot, on average.
Surprisingly, Terry's vast experience provides little benefit when it comes to errors made. Be it only by the slimmest of margins, Smalling is actually the more dependable in this area (0.05 to 0.06).
There's no doubt Smalling has a long path to tread before he can claim to be at the same level as Terry, but the statistics certainly suggest that he has plenty to offer as a top class Premier League defender.
Based on recent form there's little between the duo, and it would take a brave man to predict the victor ahead of Saturday's clash.