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Smalling makes case for defence

Published 10/06/2015

Chris Smalling, left, helped England keep a clean sheet against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin
Chris Smalling, left, helped England keep a clean sheet against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin

Chris Smalling thinks he and Phil Jones have proved they deserve to be the long-term centre-half partnership for Manchester United.

United were left with a considerable gap to fill at the heart of their defence last summer following the departures of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. but they ended the season with the fourth best defensive record in the Barclays Premier League.

Goalkeeper David de Gea deserves a large chunk of the credit, but Smalling and Jones, who finished the campaign as Louis van Gaal's first-choice centre-half pairing, merit praise too.

Smalling admits he was facing a decisive season at United last term and he feels he passed it with flying colours.

"Yes, I think it was (a make or break season)," the 25-year-old England centre-back said.

"When you consider the outgoings at centre-back, players had to step in and luckily I've been one of those who has had a good run, especially in the second half of the season.

"I think we (Jones and I) have proven we can fill the gap. It's one where it just builds over time and we've had our chance this season and now it is all about building on that next season."

It does not look like Roy Hodgson has plans to install the pair as his preferred combination at centre-back any time soon, though.

After naming him vice-captain, the England coach clearly has plans to give Gary Cahill a prominent role over the next year.

The 67-year-old remains fiercely loyal to Phil Jagielka too and there are John Stones and Calum Chambers to consider too once they have come through the European Under-21 Championship.

Hodgson went with the Smalling-Cahill combination on Sunday for England's dull 0-0 draw against the Republic of Ireland.

Their performance was one of the plus points in an otherwise forgetful stalemate.

Smalling believes the friendly, which his former United team-mate Paul Scholes described as a "waste of time", was just a one-off and he is confident of seeing England put on a better show when they play the final Euro 2016 qualifier of the season in Slovenia on Sunday.

"It was like we had lost the game to be honest," Smalling said, reflecting on the Ireland friendly.

"We felt we could have done a lot better.

"But at the end of the day we did keep our unbeaten run going and we kept a clean sheet so we'll try and take some positives from it.

"We probably needed the game in Dublin given the time off we've had. We needed to get it out of the way and make sure that we train really hard this week."

Smalling and the rest of his England team-mates will report for duty on Wednesday to begin preparations for the game in Ljubljana.

If they win, England will move nine points clear at the top of Group E with four matches to go.

"We know if we do the job on Sunday, qualification is near enough there," Smalling said.

"And then we can go into the summer relieved and happy whereas if we don't win this game it is a long break so I don't think there will be any problems with people getting up for it."

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