Smalling backing pal Phil

England and Manchester United defender Phil Jones
England and Manchester United defender Phil Jones
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Chris Smalling thinks he and Phil Jones have proved they deserve to be the long-term centre-half partnership for Manchester United.

United were left with a considerable gap to fill at the heart of their defence last summer following the departures of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.

But they ended the season with the fourth best defensive record in the Premier League.

Goalkeeper David de Gea deserves a large chunk of the credit, but Smalling and Jones – who finished the campaign as Louis van Gaal’s first-choice centre-half pairing – merit praise too.

Smalling admits he was facing a decisive season at United last term and he feels he passed it with flying colours.

“Yes, I think it was a make or break season,” the 25-year-old England centre-back said.

“When you consider the outgoings at centre-back, players had to step in and luckily I’ve been one of those who has had a good run, especially in the second half of the season.

“I think Phil Jones and I have proven we can fill the gap. It’s one where it just builds over time and we’ve had our chance this season and now it is all about building on that next season.”

It does not look like Roy Hodgson has plans to install the pair as his preferred combination at centre-back any time soon, though.

After naming him vice-captain, the England coach clearly has plans to give Gary Cahill a prominent role over the next year. He remains fiercely loyal to Phil Jagielka too and there are John Stones and Calum Chambers to consider too once they have come through the Euro Under-21s Championship.

England play their final Euro 2016 qualifier of the season in Slovenia on Sunday.