Chris Smalling targets top four and FA Cup with improving Manchester United
Published 21/04/2016 | 04:36
Manchester United have kick-started their faltering season, with Chris Smalling now plotting a fourth straight win and a shot at FA Cup glory.
Louis van Gaal's position came under renewed scrutiny after the recent 3-0 humbling at Tottenham, yet his players have rallied impressively.
Overcoming West Ham in last week's FA Cup quarter-final replay started a turnaround that continued with back-to-back Premier League wins at home to Aston Villa and Crystal Palace.
Wednesday's 2-0 win over the Eagles moved United within a point of the top four, and two behind rivals Manchester City, and increased the confidence within the camp ahead of Saturday's semi-final clash with Everton at Wembley.
"I think we've done exactly what we've needed to do," Smalling said.
"It's about having Arsenal and City looking over their shoulder and we've put a bit more pressure on.
"I am looking forward to Saturday. It's a great occasion and hopefully we do the job there, get back there again and get two visits."
Damien Delaney's own goal and a fine Matteo Darmian strike did the damage against Palace, but United would have travelled to Wembley buoyed by a grand scoreline were it not for some poor finishing and goalkeeper Julian Speroni's inspired display.
"I think it was a big improvement on Saturday and we controlled it from the start to the finish," Smalling told MUTV.
"We created a lot more chances so now we've got that good feeling going into Saturday.
"I think we control a lot of the games at Old Trafford but we can sometimes find it difficult to break teams down.
"But getting the early goal, you can see the amount of chances we created after that."
By contrast, much-changed Palace failed to really threaten United and Everton will do well to break down a defence that has collected 17 clean sheets in 34 league matches.
Smalling has been key to that sturdiness so there was understandable concern inside Old Trafford when he took a blow towards the end of the game.
However, the England international has allayed concerns that it could be a problem this weekend.
"Yeah I'll be fine," Smalling said. "It was just a 50/50 and he has just caught me after, but it's nothing serious."
Crystal Palace are sweating on a key defender's fitness ahead of their FA Cup semi-final, though.
Scott Dann missed the defeat at Old Trafford with a foot injury, making him a doubt for Sunday's Wembley clash against Watford.
"He is our biggest worry for Sunday," manager Alan Pardew said.
"We came through against Manchester United unscathed, so if he is declared fit we should have a full-strength side."