Chris Smalling eyes long-term Phil Jones pairing at Man Utd

Phil Jones and Chris Smalling
Phil Jones joined Manchester United from Blackburn in 2011, while Chris Smalling arrived from Fulham a year earlier

Chris Smalling says he and Phil Jones have proven themselves capable of being Manchester United's long-term defensive partnership.

After the departures of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic last year, Smalling, 25, and Jones, 23, ended 2014-15 as Louis van Gaal's first-choice centre-back pairing as United finished fourth.

The Red Devils also had the Premier League's fourth-best defensive record.

"We have proven we can fill the gap," said England international Smalling.

"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.

"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."

Their partnership at club level looks unlikely to be replicated at international level soon.

England
Prior to this season, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones had played alongside each other at the centre of defence only a handful of times

In Sunday's goalless draw with Republic of Ireland, England boss Roy Hodgson partnered Smalling with vice-captain Gary Cahill at centre-back, with Jones at right-back.

The dull friendly was described by former United midfielder Paul Scholes as a "waste of time", but did mean England have kept a clean sheet in seven of their last 10 games.

"We felt we could have done a lot better," added Smalling.

"But at the end of the day we did keep our unbeaten run going and we kept a clean sheet so we'll try and take some positives from it."

England play in Slovenia in a Euro 2016 qualifier on Sunday (17:00 BST kick-off), and can go nine points clear at the top of Group E with a win.

"We know if we do the job on Sunday, qualification is near enough there," Smalling said.

"And then we can go into the summer relieved and happy whereas if we don't win this game it is a long break, so I don't think there will be any problems with people getting up for it."

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