Arguably Man United’s player of the season so far, Smalling put in another sensational display, ensuring his side closed out a vital win.
A quick look at the stats tells you everything you need to know about Smalling’s performance: 100% aerial duels, 87% passing, 4 interceptions, 2 clearances, and one absolutely vital block.
The pinnacle of Smalling’s imperious display came in the 75th minute; with the home side desperately looking for a goal, CSKA’s Seydou Doumbia, seemingly out of nowhere, was one on one with David de Gea.
The Spaniard stopped the Ivorian’s effort, but left him with what looked like an easy tap in. And then, when all hope seemed lost, Smalling heroically threw himself in front of Doumbia’s drive. Moments later, with United riding on a new crest of optimism, Wayne Rooney scored the winner.
It wasn’t just a massive moment in the game, it feels like a massive moment in the context of the whole season.
The defensive heroism has become the norm with Smalling, who continues to assert himself as one of the finest defenders in English football. Just a year ago, the 25-year-old was deemed not good enough to wear the shirt after his nightmare against Manchester City; but now, he seems indispensable. It has been quite a turnaround.