Chris Smalling believes a consistent run in the Manchester United team has been key to his improvement and thinks Louis van Gaal deserves credit for helping him to become one of the Premier League’s best defenders.
The United centre-back was speaking after Sunday’s goalless Manchester derby at Old Trafford in which he almost netted the elusive winner when his late shot was tipped around the post by City keeper Joe Hart.
The highly-rated England international has started 18 games for club and country this term and scored United’s Champions League winner against Wolfsburg. But he feels his form over the last 18 months has been aided massively by a regular starting place for the Reds.
“I think the consistent run has been key,” he said. “Last year I had a good run and wasn’t injured too much which was quite good and obviously form and injuries don’t help but now in the last year or 18 months I feel I’ve made the position my own and hopefully the manager keeps picking me.”
United captain Wayne Rooney stated in an interview for the City matchday programme that he thinks Smalling is one of the best three centre-halves in world football right now.
And, although Smalling was reluctant to agree with his team-mate, the 25-year-old thinks his game is clicking all the time.
“I think it’s a case of I knew it would when I could get a consistent run and build on it I could go from height to height. At the minute I’m feeling confident and I’m looking forward to the next game and keep building on my development.”
Smalling was named third in line to the captain’s armband by van Gaal over the summer and has been a near ever-present at the heart of the United defence since the Dutchman took over in the summer of 2014.
The former Fulham defender insisted his impressive displays on the pitch is merely paying back the trust and faith his manager has showed in him.
“I think Louis [van Gaal] is a very experienced manager and I try to take all the things he says on board,” Smalling added.
“He wants you to express yourself and do as well as I can but he’s given me massive support. When he shows his trust in you, you want to repay it. I just want to do as well as I can but he deserves massive credit.”