Friday 18 August 2017

Manchester United defender Chris Smalling not taking Leicester lightly

Chris Smalling, centre, opened the scoring when Manchester United faced Leicester earlier in the season
Chris Smalling, centre, opened the scoring when Manchester United faced Leicester earlier in the season

Manchester United will not be lulled into a false sense of security by Leicester's struggles, with Chris Smalling instead focusing on the attributes that saw them become Premier League champions.

Last season's 5,000-1 title triumph was one of the most remarkable feats in sporting history, with the Foxes going from relegation fodder to title winners over the course of the most remarkable of seasons.

The dream rise has been followed by a wretched fall that leaves Claudio Ranieri's men two points above the drop zone ahead of the weekend fixtures.

Smalling, like so many others, has been surprised by just how far Leicester have fallen, but there appears little chance of complacency seeping in when United head to the King Power Stadium on Sunday.

"Yes, I think I am (surprised by where they are right now) and I think a lot of people are," said the defender, who opened the scoring when United beat them 4-1 at Old Trafford in September.

"Whether they were going to be challenging for the title again or not, I'd expect them to be higher than they are.

"But I don't think we can forget their qualities which made them the champions, the current champions, so I think we need to be more wary of their potential threats and what they did last year rather than the situation they find themselves in now."

Aside from N'Golo Kante, Leicester have retained the core of last season's triumphant team, yet the same players have been unable to scale the heights they managed last term.

Jamie Vardy is chief among them as, despite the nuisance factor remaining, the goals have dried up, managing just five in the league this season.

Smalling said of his England team-mate: "Whether or not he's on a roll of scoring however many goals last season, I think he's someone who will always give his all for the team.

"And no matter their situation or how many goals he's scored, he won't let it rest.

"You know that when you've got the ball, you'll have a few seconds less than you would in the majority of games."

The respect is mutual as Vardy named Smalling as the toughest defender he has faced in the Premier League.

"Yes it is (nice to hear that), and especially when Jamie's one of those players that the majority of defenders would find very hard to play against," the United centre-back said.

"I'd say that as well because of his unpredictability, his pace and his work rate so to hear that - and I did read that - it gives you a little smile when they see that you're a bit of a pest to them."

Smalling may well get the chance to renew battle with Vardy given Phil Jones is set to miss Sunday's match with a foot injury.

Eric Bailly's return from the African Nations Cup means a start is by no means assured, though, especially with Daley Blind and Marcos Rojo also offering options in the heart of defence.

"I think in training we're often playing with different partners and in any given game you never know what sort of forwards you're going to be up against," Smalling told MUTV.

"I think a lot of that understanding is based around our training and what we do on a daily basis but I feel very comfortable with all of them and likewise they all feel comfortable because we play with each other every day."

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