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Sunday 22 October 2017

Smalling: We can excel in big week

United defender Chris Smalling
United defender Chris Smalling

Chris Smalling believes Manchester United can flourish in this week's "massive" matches if they can replicate the display that kept their FA Cup dreams alive.

Sunday looked set to be one of the low points in a troubled campaign as Dimitri Payet's exceptional free-kick put West Ham on course for Wembley.

However, the improved attitude and aptitude displayed by Louis van Gaal's men helped secure a 1-1 draw, with Anthony Martial's effort from an acute angle securing a quarter-final replay.

Smalling knows United were far from their best at Old Trafford but was proud of their response to back-to-back defeats and falling behind, even going so far as to say Sunday was a "missed opportunity".

They now turn their attention on overturning a two-goal deficit in the Europa League against Liverpool tomorrow night, before Sunday's trip to near neighbours Manchester City.

"I think it did (lift us)," Smalling said of Martial's leveller.

"To go 1-0 down and obviously everything is against you with previous results, then to show some fighting character and really push for the winner at the end I think hopefully does boost us.

"We have got massive games now and obviously it is another game with the replay as well, so we've still got a lot of games to play for."

First up is the home clash with Liverpool - a last-16 tie Smalling knows United face a "difficult job" in.

Only David de Gea's brilliance prevented it being more than a 2-0 loss in the first leg and Jurgen Klopp's men make the short trip to Old Trafford in the knowledge that an early away goal could kill the tie.

"It's not impossible and I think we need to play how we did in that second half and start the game (well) - not start the game as we did (against West Ham)," Smalling said.

"It was a very nervous start and we can't afford any slip-ups on Thursday.

"We talk a lot about how to start the game and starting it strong, and more often than not we've started the game quite strongly.

"(On Sunday) we didn't but we grew as the game went on and the second half we were a lot better."

The way the West Ham match ended has certainly boosted the defender's confidence of overturning the two-goal deficit tomorrow.

"It was very doom and gloom (around the place) but we knew that in two days we had to get our heads right and we had a very big game," Smalling said of the Anfield defeat.

"I think it helped that we had such a big game to play for because everyone can see the Wembley finish line.

"We just got our heads around this very quick and now we turn our attention back to Liverpool.

"We looked at the videos, et cetera, but only in our normal way. The two days we had to turn our attention to this meant we didn't have a lot of time to dwell on a lot of mistakes."

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