Chris Smalling has hailed new signing Nemanja Matic for making such a seamless transition into life at Manchester United ever since arriving for £40m from Chelsea earlier this month.
The Serbian, much to Antonio Conte’s dismay, joined up with the Man United squad just in time for their final pre-season clash with Sampdoria, where he enjoyed a promising 45 minutes despite having no real pre-season under his belt. He went on to impress during United’s 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup with a powerful, sturdy midfield display and flourished alongside Paul Pogba – both offensively and defensively – against West Ham United, with the pair orchestrating a dominant and entertaining 4-0 win.
And few individuals will appreciate his balancing presence at the base of midfield more than Smalling. The Englishman struggled to offer much assurance last season and fell down the pecking order behind the likes of Eric Bailly, Marcos Rojo and even Phil Jones. It was thought that Jose Mourinho would let him find another club this summer but the absence of Marcos Rojo and Victor Lindelof’s slow start has culminated in the defender maintaining his place in the squad.
Speaking to the Metro, Smalling has admitted that Matic’s brilliance has taken him by surprise, implying that he will enjoy a smoother campaign with the indomitable 29-year-old sitting in front of him.
“Obviously I’ve watched him from afar and been up against him for Chelsea. I always knew he was a good player but coming up close to him in training and how he’s performed with us, it’s gone to a whole new level of appreciation,” he said.
“I see him working, making play out and not only does he close down the ball but he’s spraying those passes as well so my appreciation for him has gone up a level.
“I think his age helps and obviously he comes from a club in the Premier League so he’s not needed very long to settle in at all,’ he explained.”