Shaw and Smalling blossoming partnership begins to bare fruit
When Chris Smalling left Fulham for the brighter lights of Manchester United in 2010, it seemed the boy from humble beginnings in South London, had arrived.
Before, Smalling was playing for non-league side Maidstone United as so many other aspiring teenagers from the city's suburbs. Unlike them however, even before his move to Craven Cottage in 2008, Smalling was developing into a raw defensive talent.
Taken under his wing by then United boss, Sir Alex Ferguson - having elected to join The Red Devils over league rivals Arsenal - Chris Smalling was eased into the first-team setup, at Old Trafford.
However, through a combination of a revolving door of managers - not seen at United before - and the steep learning curve he has undertaken, his defensive awareness and ability was at first, alarmingly absent.
After David Moyes was sacked and with incumbent Louis Van Gaal expected to significantly strengthen his defence, it was assumed that Smalling would be back-up, at best.
One of Moyes' last pieces of business was to register his interest in Luke Shaw but failed to bring the defender in during the January transfer window of that year. Despite Moyes' departure, Shaw arrived for £27m, last summer.
It was reported that Van Gaal had reservations about following up his predecessor's interest in Shaw and those were immediately clear for all to see, as the former Saint had huge problems adapting to his new manager's intense and extensive training methods. As a result, the left-back missed the majority of his debut season through injury and lack of fitness.
Now - returning to Smalling - whatever has been said of Louis Van Gaal's ineptitude in an attacking sense, the Dutchman has stuck to his guns with his England defender and as a result, like for his club, has become a regular fixture for Roy Hodgson and England, as they seal their qualification for Euro 2016.
Moreover, Smalling has come on leaps and bounds with his decision making, confidence and aerial prowess (although his passing game needs work) which has seen the player reach 100 appearances for United already and receive 18 caps thus far, for The Three Lions.
As Luke Shaw regains full fitness for his club, both he and Smalling have formed part of a resolute defensive unit domestically, yes, but also internationally. Indeed Shaw is now perhaps first-choice England left-back ahead of Everton's Leighton Baines.
Why? Because the Smalling-Shaw link has even more importance for England. Smalling plays as a right-footed, left centre-back, next to his clubmate, whilst for United, he plays as a more natural right sided defender, alongside the like-footed Matteo Darmian. Shaw needs the trust he has in Smalling.
Luke Shaw is now a much more physical presence for which Louis Van Gaal should be commended also. As we have seen on numerous occasions, Shaw has the penchant to venture forward and often operates as more of a wing-back. Therein, his chemistry with Smalling is essential.
Chris Smalling is now often the lone defender on United attacks, as Daley Blind pushes into a protecting midfield role. Whereas before, Smalling was too in-experienced and often seemed like the proverbial 'rabbit in headlights', the 20 year-old's reading of the game is significantly improved now, which allows him to control his area of the pitch and also cover for Shaw's many offensive sojourns, during an average 90 minutes.
Luke Shaw has only a third of Smalling's international caps, but his composure belies his youth and relative lack of experience at the top level.
As Manchester United entertain Liverpool on Saturday evening, the Shaw-Smalling partnership will be provided with a stern examination. Should they once again pass with flying colours, the foundations are there for huge progression.
Both for club and country.