Following England’s dismal showing at the European u21 championships in Denmark, pundits and fans alike have scrounged for positives.
With just 2 goals scored, zero wins and having less possession in games against Spain and Ukraine (ironically the games they managed to avoid defeat!) the tournament is one that people will want to forget as soon as possible.
Whilst it may look bleak for England, Manchester United can take positives from the competition. Cleverley when played in a more familiar role looked good, Danny Welbeck was England’s sole goal scorer netting twice, Phil Jones showed promise and will be captain of the u21s next season but the biggest positive of all was Chris Smalling.
The defender was immense this season when called upon for United and carried his good form over into the competition and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.
No nonsense Martin Keown was a stalwart in Arsenal’s back line for years, he was part of a defensive spine for them from which they achieved success in both 1998 and 2002 beside Tony Adams so it’s fair to say he knows a thing or two about defending.
Watching England crash out, Keown highlighted Smalling’s performances as praiseworthy stating in the Daily Mail,
“Has impressed in each match and has improved no end since joiningManchester United from Fulham. I believe he has been working on his movement and he certainly looks more mobile than his central defensive partner Phil Jones.
“Smalling tried to take the game to the Czechs by bringing the ball out into midfield, which is a good option as he is more comfortable on the ball than many of those ahead of him.
“Smalling plays a high-energy game and has to make sure he leaves enough in the tank so players can’t get in behind him with a sudden burst of pace.”
Smalling will be looking to improve on his performances this season and with more opportunities to come as the career of Rio Ferdinand winds down, it isn’t laughable to think we are seeing a replacement for him finding his footing.