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Analysing Chris Smalling’s no-nonsense performance for Manchester United against Leicester City

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Manchester United made light work of current Premier League champions Leicester City with a 3-0 away victory this Saturday. Three goals within seven minutes killed off the game as Henrikh Mkhitaryan netted the opener, before Zlatan Ibrahimovic doubling the away side’s lead just two minutes after, becoming the oldest player to reach 15 goals in a single Premier League season. The final nail in the coffin for the Foxes came four minutes after the restart following some great link up play between Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata, with the latter finishing off the move.

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Although it may have been attackers like Mkhitaryan and Ibrahimovic who shined for Jose Mourinho’s side, a defensive masterclass by Chris Smalling provided United with a strong foundation to attack from. Despite sometimes being overshadowed by his fellow defenders, the England centre-back stood out as one of the side’s key players on the day – and kept a well deserved clean sheet.

Where Smalling dominated most was in the air. Leicester were praised for their groundwork last season, stringing numerous passes together when building attacks. Nevertheless, this campaign the Foxes are low on confidence and haven’t imposed themselves on each match as did previously. They traded their fine passing for more hit-and-hope tactics, which Smalling was more than happy to clear up.

The 27-year-old made 19 clearances in 90 minutes against Leicester, 15 of which being with his head. In addition, Smalling often came up trumps in ariel duels, winning 9/10 of them. Jamie Vardy feeds mainly off balls played into feet, so it’s no surprise he struggled against the powerful figure of Smalling.

Aside from his presence in the air, Smalling didn’t have much else to deal with. So lacklustre was Leicester’s showing that he was only forced to make one tackle throughout the entire game, whilst Leicester only managed to attempt one shot on target.

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Phil Jones was regarded as the defender in form throughout January for the Red Devils, but Smalling could be set to overtake if he keeps up a strong run of form and is challenged more in the tackling department.

Featured image: All rights reserved by laurent lairys.

Billy Taylor is a video editor and camera operator for Sino-UK TV Channel Propeller TV (Sky 189) but also has a keen interest in football writing. His work has been published in local newspapers, The Football Pink magazines and also on Sun Dream Team. Billy is an avid West Ham United fan who is rarely made happy by his team's performances.

Everton

Everton are favourites to sign Chris Smalling, should he make the move?

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As it looks likely that there will be yet more summer upheaval at Old Trafford this summer as Jose Mourinho attempts to mount a fight against Manchester City next season, and one of the men to fall victim to that could be Chris Smalling.

Smalling has already lost his spot in the England squad under Gareth Southgate and may miss out on a World Cup place, but remains a regular option for Mourinho.

That said, if United are to look to improve over the summer then some of the changes are likely to come at the back and that could spell an end to Smalling’s career in Manchester, particularly if he wants to regain a spot in the England squad.

If he does leave Old Trafford, the favourites to snap him up are Everton with Sky Bet offering odds of 5/1.

(during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Huddersfield Town at Old Trafford on February 3, 2018 in Manchester, England.)

The Toffees are bound to be on the lookout for improvements of their own, with Ashley Williams not as convincing as many had hoped, Phil Jagielka far past his best and Michael Keane disappointing since his move last summer.

Smalling has experience at the very highest level and has shown with United that he has what it takes, even if he lacks the consistency and occasionally makes some costly mistakes.

Everton’s good relationship with United could be key to securing his signature with many Premier League clubs likely to be interested if he is for sale, with Leicester, Crystal Palace and Newcastle all in the running according to the odds.

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Manchester United

Tottenham’s decision to rush back Harry Kane cost them in the FA Cup

The England international has only recently come back from injury.

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Harry Kane
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Harry Kane was a shadow of his former self against Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-final Saturday afternoon, contributing little as Tottenham Hotspur fell to a 2-1 defeat.

The English international struggled to influence the match and was clearly off the pace. It is glaringly clear that Mauricio Pochettino rushed Kane back from his ankle injury far too soon; a decision that may well have cost Spurs their best recent chance at silverware.

Back in March, the striker crumpled under an awkward challenge from Bournemouth‘s Asmir Begovic and left the match on crutches. Spurs fans held their breath in fear and were crushed when it was later revealed Kane had suffered ligament damage.

It was a blow that was widely expected to keep Kane on the sidelines for the next couple months, but remarkably the striker returned just three weeks later in a 3-1 away win against Chelsea.

However, in the following run of matches leading up to the season-defining encounter against Manchester United, Kane had largely looked unfit and missing his classic verve and intensity that has come to define his game.

(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

This lethargy was notably on show in the midweek fixture against Brighton. Although the 24-year-old scored a goal, he appeared tired and unwilling to make his characteristic attacking runs behind the defence.

On the biggest stage of them all, Tottenham’s star striker was well off his prolific best. It was a shame that Kane could not rise to the Wembley occasion and send Spurs to the FA Cup final.

However, it is through no fault of the Englishman, as the blame must be placed on the over-eager Tottenham backroom staff. There was no need to rush Kane back for the league matches before the massive semifinal, and the striker should have been saved for the United match.

As a result of Pochettino’s poor decision, Spurs are trophy-less and Kane is damaged – a tragic turn of events for the north London club.

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Manchester United

Has Romelu Lukaku enjoyed a successful debut season at Manchester United?

The Belgian international has 27 goals in all competitions this season.

Martyn Cooke

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Romelu Lukaku
Photo: Getty Images

Expectations at Old Trafford have always been high.

Over the previous three decades, Manchester United have become one of the most successful club teams in Europe with Sir Alex Ferguson creating an era of dominance that brought success and trophies on a previously unprecedented scale.

His successors may not have been able to directly replicate his achievements, both David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal won just won FA Cup between them, but the raised bar that he set remains in place.

Expectations of individual players are also high, especially if you happen to be a striker.

Wayne Rooney, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Robin Van Persie, Eric Cantona, Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham are just a small selection of prestigious names that have shouldered the goal scoring responsibility at Old Trafford.

So, it would be fair to say that Romelu Lukaku has some rather large historical boots to fill.

The Belgian striker arrived at Old Trafford in the summer for an initial fee of £75 million after prolific spells with Everton and West Bromwich Albion.

He was brought in by Jose Mourinho to be the focal point of the Manchester United attack and to placate some of the goal scoring issues that the Portuguese coach had experience in his debut season with the club.

(Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

A big-name striker, following in the footsteps of club legends, at a club that demands success – expectations were certainly high.

So, how do we rate Lukaku’s first season with Manchester United?

On Wednesday evening the Belgian climbed off the bench at the Vitality Stadium to score the goal that secured three points against Bournemouth. It was the 24-year-old’s 16th Premier League strike of the season and the 27th goal that he has netted in all competitions so far this campaign.

In basic terms, this season has been the most successful and prolific in front of goal in Lukaku’s career.

Mourinho has been using the Belgian as a lone striker and the focal point of Manchester United’s attack in a campaign in which the club has struggled to maintain pace with their cross-city rivals.

Lukaku has demonstrated that he possesses the pace, power and strength to become one of the leading strikers in world football and when he is fit, confident and on form the 24-year-old is as good as anyone else in the business.

However, despite his considerable goal return Lukaku has not been without his critics in his debut season at Old Trafford.

It has been suggested that the Belgian is a fast-track bully, a big-name that only scores against the so-called ‘smaller’ clubs and fails to produce when it really matters.

Critics point to the limited impact that he has had in matches against Manchester United’s direct rivals – he has scored only once against a top six-team this season.

Some supporters have also become increasingly frustrated that Mourinho’s reliance on Lukaku has seen game time restricted for players such as Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.

(Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)

The duo started the game against Bournemouth in mid-week and flourished in the Belgian’s absence, offering a more mobile, pacey form of attack that has often been missing this season.

Finally, it is noticeable that Lukaku has been lagging behind somewhat in the Premier League goal scoring charts this campaign. He is currently the sixth leading scorer in the league and has found the back of the net 14 times fewer than Mohamed Salah and 10 times less than Harry Kane.

However, when analysing the 24-year-old’s performances this season it is also worth remembering the pragmatic style of play that Mourinho has utilised.

The Portuguese coach is renowned for his defensive approach against other top-six teams whilst even against so-called ‘lesser’ clubs Manchester United have struggled to produce an aesthetically pleasing style of play.

The fact that Lukaku is on track to score 30 goals this season given the general approach of his manager should be applauded, not derided.

The Belgian has undoubtedly been a success in his debut season at Old Trafford but there is certainly room for improvement next year. However, Lukaku is still only 24 and he still has an abundance of time to grow, improve and develop his game whilst the peak years of his career are still ahead of him.

Manchester United supporters will be hoping that his significant goal return this season is just the start and that Lukaku will be able to build on the relative success of his debut campaign and push his game onto the next level next year.

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