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.
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.
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.
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