Chris Smalling made an impressive return to first-team action in Saturday’s 3-0 win at Fulham and the defender insists his Manchester United team-mates are “relishing” the tough run of fixtures ahead. Smalling made his first appearance in two months, with his previous outing also against Fulham in a 4-1 win at Old Trafford in December, and helped the Reds to keep a clean sheet against his former club.
“The first 10 minutes was quite chaotic with the wind, the pitch wasn’t great and with Aleksandar Mitrovic and his style. I had to wake up and get focused really quickly but, yes, it was nice to come back and get involved with the team, given the form that we are in,” he told MUTV. “We needed to ride out that first 10 minutes and then every time we got the ball down and broke those lines, you could see Anthony Martial, Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku it looked like we could score every time. I thought we created some great chances.”
“Paul has got everything, hasn’t he? And he is showcasing that,” Chris continued. “A big reason why we are in this form we are in is down to Paul, because he’s not just scoring goals, he is assisting goals and he is controlling games as well, so we are very lucky to have a player like him in our team. Especially at the start of the game, we wanted to isolate Anthony Martial against the full-back Denis Odoi and, after the joy he was getting in the first 10 minutes, we just wanted to feed him as soon as we could and you could see the quality he has got.“
The win over Fulham means that the Reds have now leapfrogged Chelsea into fourth place in the Premier League, at least until the Blues play at Manchester City on Sunday, and Smalling believes it is testament to the form we have shown of late. “We all knew the task we had in front of us and we all thought it would be tough and we still have a lot to do,” Chris added. “But I think the fact that we have been able to get those points and catch up so quickly is full credit to the squad and how well we have been playing, but now we are in fourth it is ours to lose.”
United now approach a crucial period in the season, with Paris St-Germain visiting Old Trafford on Tuesday evening for the first leg of the UEFA Champions League last-16 tie before the Reds travel back to London to face Chelsea in the Emirates FA Cup and then host fierce rivals Liverpool six days later. Smalling insists he and his team-mates are well aware of the tests that lie ahead and are “relishing” the challenge, with the mood “as good as ever”.
He added: “We all knew the run of fixtures that we have coming up and we are all relishing that. We knew today it was about character and, if we can get up for PSG and Liverpool, it was about coming here and making sure we got the three points. The mood going into PSG is as good as ever.”