Cameron Borthwick-Jackson enjoyed mixed fortunes at Chelsea but Alan Smith believes the Manchester United academy graduate is justifying Louis van Gaal’s faith.
The 19-year-old has enjoyed a run of 10 games in United’s first team due to a series of injuries, but the Manchester-born youngster has stepped up admirably, with Van Gaal opting to keep faith in the full-back rather than recruit in January.
Borthwick-Jackson was given a tough time by in-form Willian at Chelsea on Sunday, but defender passed the test, impressing former Arsenal forward Smith.
He wrote in his column in the Telegraph: “Let us get this right. Borthwick-Jackson would be nowhere near the first team if Luke Shaw and Marcos Rojo were fit and if Daley Blind was not required to fill in at centre-half.
“Who, though, cares about that? Borthwick-Jackson surely does not, seeing as he is getting a chance to show his ability. One man’s misfortune and all that. The local Manchester lad who turned 19 last week finds himself in the enviable position of playing in a team who are actually enjoying their best spell of the season.
“Yesterday, the task proved a little more onerous. In a compelling draw at Stamford Bridge, the teenager first had to contend with Willian, Chelsea’s best player his season by quite some distance. As you would expect, it was not all plain sailing.
“At one point, the Brazilian embarrassed the youngster by putting him on his backside with some lightning-quick footwork, so reinforcing the coaching maxim issued to every young defender about staying on your feet.
“Before and after that, though, it is important to note that Borthwick-Jackson did some very good things. For a start, he showed that the assist last Tuesday was by no means a fluke. Armed with a very capable left foot, the academy product is obviously adept at curling balls around his direct opponent into that killer area between goalkeeper and defence. It is a very useful skill, especially when your team-mates are ready for the pass.
“And talking of crosses, he also showed a knack for stopping them at the other end. Whether it was Willian, Pedro or the overlapping Branislav Ivanovic, Borthwick‑Jackson often managed to get his body in the way.
“That shows a certain aptitude, a good defensive mindset that should stand him in good stead throughout his career.
“Whether that career will include a long spell at Old Trafford is another matter entirely. Standards are high and, as mentioned above, competition is fierce. But he will only learn and get better from this kind of exposure, when the slightest mistake tends to get punished.
“A painful example of that arrived late on when he was caught a yard behind everyone else, so playing Diego Costa onside for Chelsea’s equaliser. A brave attempt to make amends narrowly failed, his sliding tackle not enough to derail the scorer.
“Yet that one moment should not detract from an admirable effort. Borthwick-Jackson had survived a rigorous test, aided by a temperament said to be extremely calm. With Louis van Gaal, the United manager, chronically short of options in this particular position, the defender is responding with no little class.”