Probably like most of you the game between Manchester United and Celtic was eagerly awaited. Not only was it our first opportunity to view new signing Chris Smalling, but we welcomed the return of an old friend after a long long summer without United. I was like an excited child on Christmas Day (up at 4am) an hour before kickoff. My only previous viewing of Smalling came when Fulham took on Chelsea. He impressed keeping Chelsea at bay but unfortunately scored an own goal. After his signing was announced I tried in vain to watch him in Fulham’s remaining fixtures – frustratingly he was not Roy Hodgson’s preferred choice.
During the first half Smalling had little opportunity to impress as United dominated mainly due to the sublime Paul Scholes – his passing was simply outstanding. God, how I wish he was ten years younger! How England could have done with Scholes in South Africa… but who cares?! The first half did highlight how comfortable Smalling looked in possession; he is not worried to bring the ball out of defence.
The second half asked more questions as Celtic were inspired by Giorgios Samaras, he played like a man possessed! Where has this Samaras been hiding? Of course the talking point is the penalty conceded by Smalling. Perhaps harsh to suggest Smalling was caught out of position? So be it, as a young player these mistakes are part of his learning process.
The immediate impression of Smalling and probably the conclusion most will share is he is Rio Ferdinand’s clone. I remember watching a young Rio at West Ham; he was regularly found out of position and made mistakes, leading to goals being conceded. Was only when Rio moved to Leeds United and then finally to Manchester United where he started to understand the art of defending, positional play and he become less error prone. I have no doubts whatsoever Smalling will follow a similar pattern to Rio.
The similarities between a Rio & Vidic central partnership compared to Smalling & Evans partnership is fairly obvious. Evans and Vidic are rocks, the men which will challenge for majority of headers from restarts etc while Smalling and Rio will clean up the crumbs, collect any knock downs and use their pace if found out of position.
Overall, his performance was impressive; it gave an inclination of his talent. He is by no means the finished article and he will no doubt make further mistakes. This seems about right for an inexperienced lad? We have to accept these mistakes and not jump on his back with every mistake made. Before kickoff, MUTV showed an interview with Smalling. He seemed level headed; spoke well and seemed an intelligent lad – all positive signs.
You can’t teach his size, pace or natural athleticism – he has the physical tools. Once his reading of the game improves (which it surely will with experience) he will become a real asset for the club.