Friday 20 September 2019

Testing week holds no fears for Smalling as United's powers of recovery are revived

Confident: Chris Smalling. Photo: Getty
Confident: Chris Smalling. Photo: Getty

Tom Prentki

Chris Smalling says the powers of recovery Manchester United have demonstrated in recent weeks will prove invaluable to the side ahead of the club's most challenging week of the season to date.

A dramatic late comeback against Newcastle United last month triggered an improved run of results that was maintained when Marcus Rashford's winning goal in added time secured a third win in four Premier League games at Bournemouth.

A poor first half display - manager Jose Mourinho admitted his side were fortunate not to be trailing by four goals or more at half-time - confirmed United are a long way short of their best and continue to look frail defensively.

Smalling, the centre-back signed by Alex Ferguson from Fulham in 2010, knows they cannot afford a repeat against Juventus in the Champions League group game this week let alone the Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium next Sunday, but still saw grounds for optimism in their second half response at the Vitality Stadium.

"No matter how bad that first half was, that second half we all believed we could go and win. The first half I thought was probably our worst first half of the season. I thought we were all miles off it," said Smalling.

"In the last few years I think we have been known for shutting up shop and not conceding many goals, so this season has been very unusual to what I have experienced."

"It's often coming down to fine margins - who can give that added burst in the last five minutes. We're going to win a lot of points that way."

"We know we're going into a very tough week now, but we can come out with some good results. And it can be seen as a good month, considering it was probably one of our toughest months," Smalling added.

"We need to take the second-half performance we had against Juventus at home and do that from the off, and we'll give them a good game."

Smalling was given the runaround by an excellent Bournemouth display in the first half an hour, before Anthony Martial levelled with his fifth goal in has last four Premier League appearances and Rashford scored his late winner.

United remain four points outside the top four despite their improvement and the 28-year-old is aware that many of the club's global fanbase remain far from satisfied.

"To be able to be at a club like this, and last as long as I have, you need to have that courage and belief in your ability, because you're not going to have good days every week and the bad days are often highlighted.

"You can't get away from it (social-media criticism). I'm not saying I'm going to read all my comments, but as players you need to have thick skin."

Callum Wilson put the Cherries in front with his sixth goal of the season when he slotted in confidently from Junior Stanislas' fizzed cutback- it was just reward for the hosts sparkling play in the opening period.

With Romelu Lukaku out with a muscle or tendon injury that threatens his participation against Juventus, Alexis Sanchez led the United attack, and he created United's equaliser just before the break.

The Chilean won the ball in central midfield and, after his pass was returned by Ashley Young, he delivered a perfectly weighted cross for Martial to wrong-foot goalkeeper Asmir Begovic with his finish.

The second half began more evenly before United established dominance, culminating with them almost scoring three times in one extraordinary passage of play.

There were further chances for both teams before United's injury time winner. Paul Pogba did well to create space to deliver a cross, and with Nathan Ake missing his header, Rashford calmly brought the ball under control and slammed past Begovic from close range. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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