Has Chris Smalling proved a case for himself this year?
Errors. Mistakes. Blunders. Something each and every human being makes, let alone football players. Something simply unforgiven by fans and managers alike, when you play at the biggest clubs, let alone when you don the famous red of Manchester United.
If there is one player who, throughout his career, has been on the receiving end of jibes and taunts, it has been Manchester United's Chris Smalling. Sadly, his career has been marked by unfortunate incidents that may leave a black mark when he looks back in the future.
The Englishman has found himself at the wrong end of things many a time, but is he now turning over a new leaf? Is he slowly establishing himself in the United line-up? Is he slowly proving his doubters wrong?
Throwback to the Derby
When Smalling scored that goal in that match last week, there was not one Red Devil across the world staying motionless. The mere thought of their rivals sealing the league title before their very eyes was something about which every United fan had nightmares of.
And, when Smalling directed Alexis Sanchez's free-kick past Ederson, it simply sent the United faithful into absolute delirium.
The man, who so often, has been susceptible to mistakes at the other end of the pitch, scoring the winner in one of the greatest ever Manchester derbies.
If you think that's the first time Smalling has risen to the occasion, then you are wrong.
In the 2011 Community Shield, United found themselves 2-0 down at half-time against City and went on to win 3-2 thanks to an eerily similar goal from Smalling that sparked the comeback.
He famously scored the opener against Chelsea in the 2011-12 season as well, his first league goal for the club as United won 3-1. He also scored the fourth in a 4-2 win against Manchester City in the 2014-15 season.
Also, in the beginning of March at Selhurst Park this season, United found themselves 2-0 down and again, it was Smalling who got United's first goal as they went on to win 3-2. A pivotal victory that helped to gain serious ground on Liverpool, who were breathing down their neck.
In fact, Manchester United have won every single match in which Chris Smalling has scored. A lucky charm?
Being Injury free
It remains a mystery how often United players get injured and Mourinho has rarely been able to field a consistent centre-back pairing. Marcos Rojo was sidelined for the first-half of the season as a result of a knee injury he sustained last season, Eric Bailly missed close to four months and Phil Jones finds himself on and off the treatment table.
Despite all his flaws, Smalling has been injury-free all season and has been the only defender consistently available for selection for every game.
As Manchester United will vehemently challenge on all fronts next season, it is sensible to keep hold of the player, even if Mourinho decides to sign a more established player.
Of course, Phil Jones might be a better defender on his day than Smalling, but what is the point if he can't make himself available when it matters the most? That's where Smalling scores big and comes off as the winner.
This season, Smalling has been United's most consistent defender and has played 39 games for the club in all competitions. He has also pitched in with 3 goals, all of them proving to be extremely crucial for the club.
He has 9 clean sheets to his name and quite miraculously has made no defensive errors this season, despite popular knowledge. He has also made 37 tackles, 52 interceptions and 143 clearances in the league and has also won 142 duels.
It's worth noting that he outshines every other United defender in all these aspects, even if we consider the average per match numbers.
(All numbers from www.premierleague.com and www.squawka.com)
Not a figure who intimidates opponent strikers, not someone who will give a 10/10 performance every week, not someone capable of leading the team from the back, but certainly someone who puts his 100% effort when he is on the pitch.
And for a manager like Mourinho, for whom work ethics remain paramount, it is worth saying that Chris Smalling has made a case for himself this season.
And, it will be a rational decision from Mourinho to keep hold of the player, even if he signs a more experienced player who can go straight into their line-up.