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2016-17 Player Report Cards: Chris Smalling

Fair to say, it hasn't been the greatest season.

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

One of the lingering questions from Louis van Gaal's peculiar time in charge concerned Manchester United's theoretically impressive defence. The numbers were good. But were those involved actually establishing themselves as competent, decent defenders, or were they just being made to look better by the fact that they were part of a team pathologically incapable of taking risks?

With Chris Smalling, sadly, it appears the answer may have been the latter. And it's not as though United have suddenly turned into Kevin Keegan's Newcastle. When he's been in the team this season, Smalling has looked nervous and exposed, uncertain when the ball is at his feet and panicked when the ball is at anybody else's. The nadir came in that 4-0 hammering by Chelsea, when he may have been carrying a knock; he played as though he was carrying heavy luggage.

On that theme, this season's erratic performances have been interrupted and perhaps exacerbated by a couple of unfortunately timed injuries. And those injuries have been greeted, by his manager, with strong expressions of sympathy, faith, and support. Oh wait, no. With the weirdly pointed suggestion that Smalling might want to think about getting better quick-sharp, and the lingering implication that if he didn't just decide to be uninjured, it would not speak well of his determination.

Whatever we make of Mourinho's strange bedside manner, things aren't looking great for Smalling. Between the arrival of Eric Bailly and the improvement of Marcos Rojo, he's by no means an established first-team player, and United will probably reinforce at the back come the summer. There can't be many at Old Trafford wishing that Van Gaal had been given another year, but we might have found one.

José Mourinho approval rating: Thin, pursed lips, and a slowly shaking head.