(REUTERS) - Manchester United's Chris Smalling has described his central defensive partner Daley Blind as "a joy to play alongside" and has backed the Dutch international to continue his development in the role.
United, fifth in the Premier League, beat Everton 1-0 on Sunday to register a league-leading 15th clean sheet of the season, and Smalling believes the stingy defence has been key to the side's ongoing pursuit of a Champions League berth.
Blind was utilised primarily as a midfielder when he joined from FC Groningen in 2014 but has spent most of the season at centre-back and Smalling said the Dutchman's versatility and ease on the ball made him a major asset.
"It's great knowing he is naturally a midfielder, so he has that passing range and ability down to a tee and defensively he is very sound as well," Smalling told British media.
"He deserves more plaudits and I think he will get them if he carries on playing the way he is playing. Everyone is standing up and taking note that Daley is one of the mainstays of this team and he is keeping us ticking."
Smalling identified a strong level of trust between them as one of the main reasons for the burgeoning partnership.
"We know we can rely on each other," he added.
"When there is a situation you don't have to over cover because you don't trust your partner.
"We trust each other fully and we bring out the best in each other as the games have gone on. He's a joy to play alongside."
United travel to White Hart Lane to take on second-placed Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.