Chris Smalling is quickly becoming Manchester United’s new defensive leader

by Sam Peoples

Chris Smalling is enjoying his current rich vein of form and is hoping it is something he can continue to build upon.

He has become Manchester United’s defensive leader this season and transformed himself into one of the best centre-backs in the Premier League.

It’s a big turnaround from Smalling in the space of a season and he richly deserves all the praise he gets, although it seems being called Mike is something he feels he’s simply going to have to get used to.

“The players don’t call me Mike, but I think a lot of the fans do,” Smalling said.

“You go to Russia or wherever and it’s ‘Mike, Mike, Mike’.

“It’s going to stick with me forever, that one.

“But when you hear such good praise, especially from Wazza (Rooney) and the manager, you just want to show them that it’s not just words that are meaningless.

“I think with two of the older players going in (Nemanja) Vidic and Rio (Ferdinand) there was a case where you needed someone to step up and I saw that as my opportunity to step up. Touch wood it will keep going

“I do think it is clicking. I think it’s a case of knowing that when I did get a consistent run and I could build on something, that I could go from height to height.

“At the moment, I am getting confident and I am just looking forward to the next game, to putting down a marker and keep building.”

Smalling is right about one thing – Mike is going nowhere. We’ll be singing it in six years when he’s lifting the Champions League trophy aloft after scoring the winner in injury time.

All jokes aside, hats off to Chris. His transformation under van Gaal has been magnificent, to the point where United look like they have a new defensive leader for the first time since Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra.

As far as fans are concerned, the Chris Smalling of 2014 can stay there – we much prefer the Mike Smalling of 2015.

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