Some players from this season have stood out from day one, the likes of Herrera, Young & De Gea have sprinkled their sporting prowess like glitter over the season and sparkled beautifully as a result. Others have been like the stone roses second album, initially slated as shite that we’d waited ages for the hyped quality to be delivered, and nothing, you were just left with what felt like an emotional kidney punch, as the season was meandering into nothingness the likes of Fellaini, Mata & Jones posed far more questions than they answered. Thankfully, as the season has moved on, and the Van Gaal philosophy has started to settle in the mind of his players, they and many others have improved significantly, in this regard there’s one guy who deserves something of a special mention:
Mr Christopher Lloyd Smalling.
Now, if you think back to the defeat at home to Spurs last season, you’d never imagine in 1,325 years that he’d be at the club, let alone among the safest pair of hands available at it, but to his great credit that’s exactly what he’s been this season.
It’s been a steady progression as the season’s gone on. Arsenal away he was second only to De Gea in turning 90 minutes in which we were dominated into 3 points that tasted sweeter than skittles, he read the play and time and time again he’d seen a pass coming and got into a position where he could do something about it, a skill he was entirely void of under Moyes, and a huge leap in quality after the stupidity he showed in the red card he picked up in the defeat at the Etihad weeks earlier as the seasons grown, his impact on the games he’s played in has grown with it, he’s given the team what they’ve needed for some time, a defender comfortable in possession who’s happy and willing to burst out from the back and push the team forward, and when he’s gone forward he’s had an impact, compared to the levels Bruce and Pallister scored at when I was a kid, 4 isn’t a lot, but it’s far more than we’ve been getting from our centre halves in recent years, if he can sustain his improvement in both halves of the field throughout 15/16 then the benefit to the club will be HUGE!
Sunday and it’s many, many, many, many failings highlighted the need to further strengthen a side that’s improved throughout the latter stages of 14/15, but despite the shambolic nature of Valencia alongside him, and the enthusiasm of McNair who’s lack of experience left him looking like the kid he is, Smalling still delivered a level of performance that could be saluted, if others around him had done the same then the performance and result would have been significantly different in my humble opinion!
Sunday also brought loudly & clearly to our attention the great need to focus on recruiting a defensive midfielder, Carrick has shown through this recent good run that he’s the beans on the toast, the vinegar on the chips, or if you will, the fixed penalty notice on a Tories land rover that just makes things better, Blind is about as well suited to the defensive midfielder role in the premier league as Little Mix are to playing the main stage at Download, and with Carrick approaching the twilight of his highly successful and grossly under appreciated career, it’s vital that the summer be used to make sure that any new additions to our backline have a capable guardian in front of them to keep things tidy while they find their feet in what’ll most likely be a new league based on the centre backs we’re being linked with.
The run in since the FA Cup defeat to Arsenal has proven that we’re getting back to a standard where we’ll soon be in a position to compete for top honours again, it’s vital that if we’re to sustain that push, that current defenders employed at the club, and any new additions added, take a leaf out of young Chris’s book and put the work in to show that they understand what’s required of them in Louis’ way of playing the game to keep Manchester United moving forward, and work to ensure they deliver the Van Gaal plan every time they’re given the chance to play.