Manchester United defender Chris Smalling has outlined his ambition to reproduce the kind of performances that Red Devils fans came to expect from Old Trafford legend Rio Ferdinand after heaping praise on Louis van Gaal for the influence he's had on improving his game.
The England international has enjoyed a recent run of games in his preferred central defensive position, and now he wants to repay the faith shown by the Dutch manager by maintaining his current form at the Theatre of Dreams.
Smalling is relishing his newfound responsibility under the watchful eye of Van Gaal, after revealing the veteran coach has encouraged all of his Manchester United centre-backs to stop taking the easy option when in possession.
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The shift in approach is something that sits well with the former Fulham stopper, whose best attributes as a ball-playing defender have previously drawn comparisons with former mentor Ferdinand.
"Louis van Gaal has really helped me as a player because the one thing he has stressed is for the centre-backs to take more responsibility on the ball," explained the 25-year-old, as quoted by The Sun.
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"Rio was a defender I always admired for the way he put his character and personality into his football.
"When he finally moved on it was a challenge I really looked forward to because I felt I was ready to step up and show the manager what I could do."
Smalling has had to learn pretty quickly to meet the demands laid out by Van Gaal this term, admitting that the gruelling double training sessions in pre-season came as a shock to the system.
The Iron Tulip never minces his words when it comes to his critiquing of player performances and offered a brutally honest assessment of the "stupid" decision that resulted in Smalling getting sent off in the 1-0 derby defeat against Manchester City back in November.
"The red card against City was foolish and came from a rush of blood," he reflected. "It's not something I've done too often and, hopefully, it won't happen again.
"It was a moment of madness and I've learned not to get caught up in those situations."
Smalling added: "Louis van Gaal is my first foreign coach and he's worked us really hard right from the double training sessions he introduced pre-season.
"He's very honest with all his players. He says what you do well and tells you what you need to improve. We've had a lot of meetings about tactics and the vision he wants at Manchester United and it's all starting to click into place.
"Rio [Ferdinand] was a defender I always admired," - Chris Smalling
"He doesn't want us to take the easy option by passing to the full-backs when the opportunity is there to give the ball to someone in a better position.
"He wants us to think more like the midfield players and look to start moves. I'm really enjoying that responsibility."
Following the departure of Ferdinand and former captain Nemanja Vidic last summer there's been an opening for a new central defensive partnership to see in the new era at Manchester United.
Smalling and Phil Jones look like the natural successors and are now being given an opportunity to prove their credentials alongside each other at the heart of the Red Devils' back-line.
Manchester United fans: Do you think Chris Smalling has the capability of being as successful as Rio Ferdinand at Old Trafford? Have your say below…
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