Smalling: Reds turning screw
Chris Smalling believes Manchester United’s remarkable powers of recovery are piling the pressure on the title rivals at the top of the table.
The leaders stretched the advantage at the Barclays Premier League summit to four points on Saturday evening, having at one stage given hope to Chelsea and Manchester City that they could end the weekend in first place.
The trademark comeback at Aston Villa, turning a two-goal deficit into a wonderful 3-2 triumph, instead left Roberto Di Matteo and Roberto Mancini’s sides needing victories against Liverpool and Tottenham respectively just to close the gap.
“I think it’s a massive win,” Smalling told MUTV. “Especially with the other teams looking at that result when they have got big games on Sunday. It puts pressure on them.”
Smalling was given a physical examination by Villa’s summer signing Christian Benteke in a second game of the week after missing the start of the season due to injury.
“I’m feeling good actually,” he revealed. “I’ve been thrust back into action but that’s what I wanted. Hopefully I can stay fit and carry on. They had a strong striker up front so we had a good battle but, luckily, we won in the end. I think, to be fair, I got sucked in by him for the first goal but we just had to come out for the second half and put on a performance. Thankfully, Chicharito came up with the goals.”
Sir Alex Ferguson accepted that the former Fulham man was given a rough ride by Benteke, who set up the opening goal with some positive, muscular approach work down the left flank.
“Chris was in the wars a few times,” stated the boss. “He got a lot of knocks. He was up against a real handful today, Christian Benteke. He did a great job for them – strong, physical and he used his physique. It was a tough day for Chris but he came through it.”
Smalling never lost belief that United could hit back, even when Andreas Weimann scored his second goal of the game five minutes after the break.
“We knew there was still plenty of time in the second half,” said the defender. “All season we’ve been capable of getting two or three goals in each game, so we knew our chances would come. Our first goal was the important one as it didn’t give us too long to dwell on it and allow them to play too deep and sit on the lead. We managed to get a goal straight away and made an impact.
“We know we can play like that from the start, I don’t know why we don’t, and it took that kick up the bum to get us going. I’m sure the comeback was good for the travelling fans but it did take us a while to get going.”
Smalling was full of praise for Javier Hernandez and admits the striker is convinced he deserves a hat-trick.
“Chicharito made a big difference when he came on,” added the centre-back. “Full credit to him. He works so hard on the training ground. He gets so many goals just coming on and he got a hat-trick today, not many people have got the ability to do that. He brought in the ball and had us all signing it so I think, to him, it’s definitely a hat-trick!”