Manchester United and England defender Chris Smalling has put in some very dominant performances over the past 12 months and has made great strides from where he was a few years ago.
The 25-year-old is improving all the time and has started to command those around him. Smalling is already the third-choice skipper at Old Trafford, behind club captain Wayne Rooney and 34-year-old vice-captain Michael Carrick, and this article indicates that the former Maidstone United and Fulham man who was born and raised in London is well on his way to becoming United’s future skipper on a permanent basis.
Following the departures of experienced duo Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, it was up to United’s young guns in Smalling, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans to take on the responsibility of filling that void.
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Thus far, due to Evans’ inconsistent displays and Jones’ numerous injury setbacks, one could say that Smalling is the only one who has stepped up to the task. At 6ft 3” Smalling is an extremely powerful man, with legendary striker and former Red Devil Michael Owen often commenting on how tough it was to face him in training.
In addition to his strength, Smalling is very quick and uses his pace to recover well to retrieve the ball whenever he seems to be in trouble. His reading of the game has improved dramatically, he is dominant in the air because he attacks the ball with great intent and he’s even added goals to his game, chipping in with four in the league last season.
Early in his Manchester United career Smalling played a lot of football at right-back and it exposed his lack of quality on the ball and even now as an established centre-back it’s clear to see that he isn’t very comfortable when in possession.
He definitely needs to improve that aspect of his game, not just to become a top-class defender but because under United boss Louis van Gaal he needs to be able to play out from the back. However Smalling will learn a lot from former Ajax player and his new central defensive partner Daley Blind who is intelligent, a brilliant passer of the ball and has been brought up playing total football in the Netherlands.
IS HE A LEADER?
Despite the widespread view for years now that United have needed to bring in an experienced, proven centre-back like Borussia Dortmund captain Mats Hummels or new Manchester City signing Nicolas Otamendi, the Red Devils had the fourth best defensive record in the Premier League last season, conceding 37 goals in 38 games, and are yet to concede in the league this term.
Smalling has been the leader of United’s back four during that time and let’s not forget that he captained United last season at Old Trafford against bitter rivals Arsenal, while he took the armband as recently as last week against Club Brugge when Rooney was substituted off.
He has emerged as the leader of a much-improved United defence that also includes Matteo Darmian, Blind and Luke Shaw, and he continues to show his quality with every passing game, much to the delight of Man United fans.
He has plenty more years in the game at the highest level, but so does United’s current skipper Wayne Rooney and I’d expect the striker, who also captains England, to be United’s skipper for the next five years at the very least. However, Smalling is definitely starting to show that he is a real leader and should be capable of thriving in the captaincy role at Manchester United in the long run.