Man Utd boss delighted with Smalling

The former Fulham youngster has been a key player alongside Nemanja Vidic at the heart of the United defence during Rio Ferdinand’s absence.

“We are very pleased with his performances,” Ferguson told Inside United. “It’s an outstanding contribution he has made. But, do you know, I expected him to do well. I had no doubts about him.

“He’s done really well for us and he is improving all the time. He is developing all aspects of his game because he wants to learn and improve. He likes defending, he enjoys it. So he’s a real bonus.

“We started him against City with Rio being out and it’s not easy coming in for your first derby at 21 years of age, having only been with us nine months. But I thought he would do well.”

Ferguson believes Northern Ireland international Jonny Evans and Smalling could become United’s heart of defence for the future.

“That’s the way I look upon it,” he continued.

“They’re young, but Evans for example has already played a lot of games for us. He played almost three quarters of the matches last season.

“He is well grounded in terms of what’s needed here. His time will come.”