18 Oct Consistency the key
Chris Smalling is confident Manchester United can establish themselves as a Premier League title “threat” over the coming games.
Old Trafford has witnessed peaks and troughs during Jose Mourinho’s short reign, with Community Shield glory and three straight league wins followed by three successive losses in all competitions.
The ship has steadied somewhat since then and Monday’s hard-fought goalless draw with rivals Liverpool stretched United’s unbeaten run to a fifth match.
Smalling, stand-in captain with Wayne Rooney again on the bench, believes it was a fair result and hopes they can now build on it.
“I think the fixtures that we have got this week are ones that we can make a turning point this season,” he said.
“We have got a clean sheet at Liverpool which has not happened for a few games.
“Hopefully we can kick on now, we have got Thursday and Sunday, and confidence is good.”
Fenerbahce arrive in the Europa League on Thursday before Sunday sees Mourinho make his first return to Chelsea.
October comes to a close with Old Trafford hosting a mouth-watering EFL Cup clash with Manchester City and a league match against Burnley – a chance for United to underline their title credentials.
“I think we have got more than enough,” Smalling said when asked if United had the capability to cope with others in the title hunt.
“I think we have shown we can score goals and on nights like this we can keep a clean sheet and not give too many chances to them.
“We can do both sides of the job and it is about consistency now. We need to go on a little run and show people that we are a team that is a threat.”
The self-belief was evident from the fact Smalling did not feel that Liverpool – a side on the back of five straight wins in all competitions – had really troubled United on Monday evening.
The centre-back felt “pretty comfortable” until the closing stages, with David de Gea required to produce two exceptional stops to secure a point, making up for the mistake that gifted Stoke a draw at Old Trafford.
“We all knew after that game that it was a rarity and David doesn’t make many mistakes,” Smalling said.
“But you could tell even tonight, even when he didn’t have too much to do until 70 minutes, that he is the right man in the right place.
“There are not many goalkeepers who could have saved both of those chances.
“You can’t let one mistake affect you and you don’t want it to bring you down all week.
“David was still the same, he trained the same and he will always be there when we need him.”
United’s three-time player of the year is playing behind what Smalling feels is an increasingly compact defence – a backline that is set to come up against a familiar face on Thursday.
Robin van Persie will be part of the Fenerbahce team arriving at Old Trafford, where three years ago his goals ensured Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season ended with a Premier League title.
“I always enjoyed playing against Robin in training,” Smalling said of his former team-mate.
“He is one who always trained very hard and it was nice to wind him up in training. I am looking forward to facing him on Thursday.
“In our home games we can’t afford to drop points because then we put ourselves under too much pressure in the two away games to come. This is a must-win game.
“We need to win on Thursday and I think we need to win on Sunday as well.
“If we can get four points out of Liverpool and Chelsea then we would have taken that at the start of the week. These are all big games.”