Monday 23 November 2015

Magnificent Mike surely now the best defender in England

Without wishing to keep banging on about him- and with me not wishing to turn this blog into a Mike Smalling fan page, it's impossible to ignore the towering contribution our stand-in skipper made yet again at Watford.

With Rooney absent, Smalling was handed the armband and revelled in his role, repelling Watford's frequent forays forward and almost snatching the winner with a stoppage time header that Gomes did well to save.

Smalling turned 26 yesterday and his evolution from nervous squad player to arguably the best in the country has been one of the high points of United's season.
Louis van Gaal deserves credit, too- Smalling has clearly thrived on his manager's methods and making him vice-captain was smart too, but the former Maidstone player's transformation has been nothing short of remarkable. 

Handing Smalling a senior role at the club has added leadership and responsibility to his game and that, coupled with his reading of the game, distribution, awareness and composure, makes him the complete centre-back United have needed for so long. 

This coming Saturday, the man now known by nicknames such as 'the Wall' and 'Smalldini' will face the most red-hot striker in the country, Leicester's Jamie Vardy, but having already rendered Kevin de Bruyne, Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku anonymous, if anyone can stop Vardy's current scoring spree then Mike can.

United have been building from the back this season and despite widespread calls for a world-class centre-back in the summer, Smalling's emergence as a top drawer star has proved there was no need to dip into the transfer marker in that area of the pitch. 

So impressive has he been that he is in contention for the MOM award week in week out and is the rock-solid foundations on which United's miserly defensive record has been built.
He was again immense at Vicarage Road and one block he made to deny Odion Ighalo was simply stunning- lunging in immaculately to snuff out the danger with the striker dangerously poised. 

He has excelled in Europe, too, though, putting in an all-blocking, all-tackling, man of the match display against CSKA last time out, and with more performances like that one, it surely will not be long before he is elevated into the top echelons of European centre-backs.

He is already arguably the best in the country and, in my view, should go to Euro 2016 as first-choice centre-back alongside another burgeoning talent in Everton's John Stones.

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