Chris Smalling has called Daley Blind a “joy to play alongside” and believes his Manchester United defensive partner is confounding the doubters.
United have yet to find a way to replicate the dominance enjoyed under Sir Alex Ferguson, with a top-four finish and FA Cup glory the best they can hope for as this topsy-turvy campaign comes to a close.
Louis van Gaal’s men are a work in progress but appear to have found the right formula at the back, with United’s 15 clean sheets more than any other Premier League side.
Smalling’s impressive displays have been key to that and earned deserved praise, but regular defensive partner Blind has at times been criticised – something his defensive partner believes is harsh.
“Ever since he joined the club he has rarely been injured,” the England international said.
“He has been able to bang out the games and have a very high consistency. He is a joy to play alongside.
“It is a good partnership. We know we can rely on each other. When there is a situation you don’t have to over cover because you trust your partner.
“We trust each other fully and we bring out the best in each other as the games have gone on and the more games we have played together.
“By each performance he is putting any critics out there to bed. He has been one of the top centre backs this year.
“It is great knowing he is that, obviously (he) is naturally a midfielder so he has that passing range and ability down to a tee and defensively he is very sound as well.
“He brings a lot to our defensive line in being able to play the ball out and cut through teams.
“I think he deserves more plaudits and I think he will get them if he carries on playing the way he is playing.
“Everyone is standing up and taking note that Daley is one of the mainstays of this team and he is keeping us ticking.”
Smalling pointed to Blind’s impressive display in Sunday’s 1-0 win against Everton, when Romelu Lukaku “didn’t get any change from him”.
It was a manful display that allowed United to hold out for a victory that keeps their top-four hopes on track, although making it three successive league wins looks a tough ask at Tottenham next weekend.
“There was a lot of relief,” Smalling said. “It was one where we were hanging on a little bit. Against a good team, one goal is never going to be enough.
“You want teams to slip up but if we are winning our games then we have given ourselves a chance.
“We need to win games. Three points puts pressure on those above. It is a massive game at Spurs now.
“They are playing for a lot and so are we. We have found this season that we have often played better against the top teams and hopefully that continues.”