When David Moyes was in charge of Manchester United – yes, we can’t forget it – the Red Devils were leaking an unfathomable amount of goals; leading to questions being proposed about whether the likes of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones were up to the task of following in the footsteps of decorated heroes of Old Trafford such as Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić.
Fast forward 18 months and in Chris Smalling we’re looking at a defender who has got his head down, worked hard, and is now reaping the benefits of such a work ethic. The English centre-half has been consistently excellent since being sent off in the Manchester Derby last November.
Gone are the days of shapeless, hopeless and shoddy defending for Manchester United. Now, it’s the season of clever, astute and tactically intuitive defending that is allowing his side to embark on new ground.
Many remember Chris Smalling as a timid, ticking time bomb that would inevitably implode at the wrong time and make yet another mistake. Under Sir Alex Ferguson, there were glimpses of a defender that could be moulded into a top class defender, but his performances were never consistent enough.
If it wasn’t for all those injuries over the past two years, it’s very possible we may have seen the evolution of Smalling’s career accelerate at a faster rate.
Now 25-years-old, Smalling is coming into the prime years of his playing career, and providing he can stay fit, should be England’s best centre-back for years to come to propel them forward.
He now possesses the right maturity, leadership and technical ability to really impose himself against the world’s best.
Top Class Defender
When Louis van Gaal came in for David Moyes in the summer of 2014, one of the first things he discussed with the media – apart from his sacred philosophy – was having a technically sound, ball-playing centre-half.
It now seems he has finally found his man. It may have taken six months to smooth over the cracks and guide the centre-back into reaching new depths, but the Dutch boss has done very well in crafting the former Fulham star into a top class defender.
He has been the linchpin of Manchester United’s defence this season which, statistically speaking, is the best in the Premier League. When in dire need of a player to step-up in and take control of his defence, Smalling has done just that. He has commanded his colleagues in turning a leaking ship into a water-tight submarine that is on a mission of its own.
Not only has the English centre-half conducted himself with the utmost professionalism and elevated his performance, he’s done the same with others around him. He has integrated the new signings in Louis van Gaal’s defence – Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind, Luke Shaw and Matteo Darmian – and has them performing in perfect symphony alongside him. It’s a pleasure to watch such a compact defence and knowing that very little is going to get past them.
Key To Future Success
United have not conceded a goal in all competitions for 555 minutes. That’s an extraordinarily long time considering they’ve played in the Champions League, Capital One Cup and Premier League – all three prized on their free-flowing attacking games.
With thanks to Chris Smalling – and his counterparts – Manchester United now have a title-winning defence that is not only apt for the Premier League, but also in Europe, too. It looks impenetrable. If only they can translate their success in defence to attack and they’ll have found the all-round balance to their game to go on and win trophies.