Sir Alex Ferguson has expressed his delight with Chris Smalling's performances in Manchester United's backline during Rio Ferdinand's absence.
The ex-Fulham youngster has been featuring alongside Nemanja Vidic at the heart of the Red Devils' defence of late with United centre-half Ferdinand sidelined with a calf strain.
Smalling helped keep a clean sheet against Wigan on Saturday and the 21-year-old is expected to retain his place in the side for Tuesday's clash against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Although Smalling is very much one for the future, Ferguson has been thrilled with his recent contribution and has acknowledged he is continually improving.
"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 also has high hopes for Jonny Evans and believes the Northern Ireland international and Smalling could become the club's long-term partnership.
"That's the way I look upon it," he continued on Evans and Smalling being the heart of the club's defence for years to come.
"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."