A mixture of suspension and injury meant Chris Smalling began this season on the bench, yet the Manchester United defender has since become a regular starter under Jose Mourinho and he is now relishing the responsibility of captaining the team in Wayne Rooney’s absence.
Smalling produced a disciplined performance as the Reds kept a clean sheet against high-scoring Liverpool at Anfield on Monday night. Speaking to ManUtd.com and reporters after the final whistle, the England international explained why he feels the captaincy has a positive impact on his form.
“I am really enjoying it and I think it is nice that the manager puts that on me,” Smalling explains. “It doesn’t really change my game going on the pitch but it is a nice touch that, in crucial moments in the game, the team will look to me. You need to make sure that, if anything, it makes your own performances rise because I don’t want to be the captain putting in an under-par performance.
“It gives me more responsibility and I like to think that I thrive on that. When given the opportunity, I like it. Even without it, in terms of the defence, I am one who has played more games and we aren’t an old defence so it was time for someone to step in there and be that leader. I am enjoying it.”
Having watched from the bench as Daley Blind and Eric Bailly impressed at centre-back early in the campaign, Smalling has now started in seven straight matches and he’s feeling stronger each time.
“From a personal point of view I missed all of the pre-season games and it is nice to now get a fine run,” says Chris. “I am feeling fitter and fresher every game. I think you can tell the defence is a lot more compact. There is no God-given right that you are going to come back into the team but I had faith that when I was fit then I would get back in. I had that belief that I would.”
One of United’s star performers at Liverpool was David De Gea following his excellent saves to deny Emre Can and Philippe Coutinho. It was the perfect way for the Spaniard to bounce back from the rare mistake that he made in the preceding Premier League game against Stoke City at Old Trafford.
“We all knew after the Stoke game that it was a rarity,” says Smalling. “David doesn’t make many mistakes. Even when he didn’t have too much to do until 70 minutes [at Liverpool], he was the right man in the right place. There aren’t many goalkeepers who could have saved both of those chances.
“You can’t let one mistake affect you and you don’t want it to bring you down all week. David was still the same [after Stoke], he trained the same and he will always be there when we need him.”
Source: Manchester United Official