Saturday 24 March 2018

Smalling says United have 'an edge' over City

CHRIS Smalling believes the momentum is with Manchester United as the Red Devils look to take a firm grip on the Premier League title battle by beating Fulham tonight.

While a draw at Stoke in itself is not a bad result, Manchester City's failure to win at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday has left the door open for United to open up a three-point lead on the team who pose the only realistic barrier to a record 20th league championship.

As City have faltered on their travels, United have stepped up the pace, dropping only two points during a tough run of fixtures that included matches against Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham.

"We may have an edge over City at the minute," said Smalling. "Experience is one thing, momentum is another. We are really building that at the minute.

"Those are the two things that can really help us push on."

It is difficult to avoid title talk in Manchester, with both red and blue camps optimistic their side will come out on top.

Rio Ferdinand alluded to it last week and while Smalling is not about to follow his team-mate's lead in claiming City fans are crawling out of the woodwork, he does hear plenty from those noisy neighbours.

"That it's City just spurs us on even more," he said. "They're making a lot of noise over there and we don't want them to win it.

"You see the table a lot and people are talking about all the fixtures coming up so it is always very much on our minds.

"And the fact we are training four or five days a week for each game builds them up even more in the sense of just how important they are." Smalling is available to face his old club after finally recovering from the nasty head wound he suffered during England's recent friendly defeat by Holland.

He has even ditched the head guard he wore during a comeback against Athletic Bilbao when his stitches opened up. "I've not seen it again but it wasn't nice," said Smalling.

Meanwhile, United boss Alex Ferguson Ferguson believes Manchester United are in the right place at the right time to strike for Barclays Premier League glory, even though he accepts his side let the fans down in Europe.

Manchester City's failure to win at Stoke yesterday means a draw against Fulham at Old Trafford tomorrow night will be enough for United to reclaim top spot.

Ferguson will be after a win though as he looks to turn the screw on City, who he feels may be starting to get affected by the pressure that is exerted in the battle for major honours.

"We are in the right place, at the right time and, most importantly, with the right players," he told United Review.

"After weeks trailing in second place we got our noses in front and I am sure our players are ready to put the pressure on again. Our guys have been flogging away and perhaps wondering if they would ever catch up before we hit the finishing line.

"Well, we did and they are capable of going in front again as we battle it out with City. Neck and neck now and I'd say it was an ideal time to be up with the leaders with only nine matches to go in the race for the title."

Yet, despite City's stuttering away form, it is going to take a high points total to secure a record 20th title.

That United are in a position to achieve it is made all the more remarkable by the fact they were eliminated at an early stage from both European competitions. In a week when Chelsea take on a Benfica side who proved too good for United in the Champions League, they must also cope with the knowledge of being comprehensively outplayed in both legs of a Europa League last-16 tie by Athletic Bilbao.

"We accept we were well beaten and we have deserved the criticism that has come our way in Europe this season," said Ferguson. "I take my share of the criticism too with my selections. I took too many chances giving young players a run-out in an attempt to speed up their development and perhaps I asked too much of them."

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