Euro 2016: Louis van Gaal made me England's first-choice - Chris Smalling

By Phil McNultyChief football writer in Chantilly
Chris Smalling and Louis van Gaal
Chris Smalling played 35 times for Louis van Gaal's side in the Premier League last season
Euro 2016 - England v Russia
Date: Saturday 11 June Time: 20:00 BST Venue: Stade Velodrome, Marseille
Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio 5 live and the BBC Sport website and app

Chris Smalling has revealed how Louis van Gaal helped turn him into England manager Roy Hodgson's first-choice central defender for Euro 2016.

Van Gaal was sacked by Manchester United and replaced by Jose Mourinho after winning the FA Cup but failing to qualify for the Champions League.

Smalling, 26, said: "Louis is very tactically aware.

"He really drilled us from the front to the back in terms of how we move, how we shift, and that's helped me."

England's Euro 2016 campaign opens against Russia in Marseille on Saturday.

Chris Smalling coy on 'Leo the Lion'

Stopping Russia's giant threat?

Russia's main aerial threat will come from 6ft 5in striker Zenit St Petersburg striker Artem Dzyuba, who scored eight goals in qualifying.

Smalling said: "We have been watching videos. He is a big guy and it will be a physical battle. Picking up second balls is crucial and not letting him dictate and bring the ball down on his chest.

"Our central defenders will have to be very physical and aggressive against him. As defenders in the Premier League, we are used to big guys and those challenges and it's something we enjoy as centre backs."

Artem Dzyuba
Artem Dzyuba scored six goals in eight Champions League games for Zenit last season

England must cut out cheap fouls

Former top-flight referee David Elleray has spoken to England's squad so they know what to expect from officials at Euro 2016.

"David came in and explained a lot of things that we may or not get away with in the Premier League compared to here," said Smalling.

"I think in the Premier League you maybe do one or two fouls before a booking comes, whereas here they may clamp down sooner."

Smalling is aware that some of the wrestling in the box that is accepted in England may not be ignored in France.

"It is a very hard job for referees to gauge what goes on, defending and attacking, because so much does go on," he said.

"You do need to be careful, because you don't want something like that to be a turning factor in the game."

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