Can Chris Smalling cement a place in the Man United defence?
Centre-back has impressed lately
Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho made it clear during the summer that he wanted a central defender to come in, but he’s had to make do with what he has instead.
United lost two of their three opening league games, but they’ve stabilised themselves recently with three wins on the spin.
Chris Smalling has regained his place in the heart of defence during the team’s upturn in form. His superbly taken goal against Watford symbolised his recent improvement. With United 6/10 to beat Wolverhampton Wanderers tomorrow, the Coral News Team have looked at why he can make the position his own…
Suits the style
Smalling has fallen out of favour internationally, with Gareth Southgate stating he wanted defenders who were more comfortable on the ball.
The 28-year-old isn’t comfortable at bringing the ball out and building play, but he doesn’t need to be for United. Jose Mourinho wants his defenders to defend first and foremost. Smalling has the height and power needed to win aerial battles. He’s good at reading the game and spotting danger too.
That’s not to say he’s a world-beater – he clearly has limitations. But in a solid, well-organised side, those weaknesses aren’t so much of an issue.
United now have more energy in the full-back areas with Luke Shaw and Diogo Dalot in those positions. Fred will also add defensive nous in midfield. That should mean the back four is less exposed, allowing Smalling to focus on his strengths.
Lack of options
Another reason Mourinho has turned to Smalling is because the other centre-backs at the club each have issues.
Phil Jones is often injured and Marcos Rojo can be very rash. Eric Bailly appeared to have all the makings of a top-class defender, but the Ivory Coast international fell out of favour towards the end of last season. He then put in an alarming performance in the 3-2 loss to Brighton & Hove Albion this term.
Smalling’s experience can be particularly useful alongside Victor Lindelof. The inexperienced Swede had a tough first year at Old Trafford. Part of the reason for that is the defence was often changing. Now he’s had a run of games alongside Smalling, the former Benfica man is starting to show what he can do.
A lot has changed at Old Trafford over the last few years. They’re already on their third manager since Sir Alex Ferguson left.
There aren’t many players left who have been part of a genuine title challenge at the club, let along actually winning it.
Other than Smalling, only Jones, David de Gea, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia have won a league medal at United.
That connection to the past is very useful on and off the pitch. They know the standards the club expects and can help the whole squad to rise to meet them.
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