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Chris Smalling: Second place is ‘bare minimum’ for Manchester United

Chris Smalling believes ending the season as Premier League runners-up is the “bare minimum” for Manchester United.

With
swashbuckling Manchester City boasting a 13-point lead and game in
hand, it is little wonder that manager Jose Mourinho has already
conceded the title to their near neighbours.

United will keep
plugging away in hope more than expectation but finishing second is the
main goal away from their Champions League and FA Cup tilts.

Having
never finished lower than third in the Premier League under Sir Alex
Ferguson, they have failed to finish higher than fourth since he retired
as a champion in 2013 – a side Smalling was part of.

“I think obviously we’ve been second for quite a while and that needs
to be our bare minimum,” the United defender said of the Premier
League.

“The fact we get to play Liverpool at home as well I think is a big advantage.

“If we can separate ourselves from Chelsea and Liverpool and work our way up then we can do that.

“But I think that’s our (goal) first and foremost.”

United were overtaken by Liverpool on Saturday but regained second spot thanks to Sunday’s 2-1 comeback win against Chelsea.

Romelu
Lukaku and substitute Jesse Lingard secured an important victory for
United, who head to Crystal Palace next Monday before Jurgen Klopp’s
Reds arrive at Old Trafford.

“I think being able to beat a rival, it’s almost like a six-pointer
because of how close we are,” Smalling said of the Chelsea win.

“The confidence just breeds (confidence) and we’re ready for the next one.

“I think considering sort of how close we are in the table, I think it gives them a massive blow and us a lift.

“I think all of us, especially that top five, are probably all going to be there or thereabouts come the end of the season.

“These
are huge games and I think the fact we play a lot of our rivals at home
is going to be a big factor because of our home form.”

United will need to start better against Liverpool than they did on
Sunday, with Smalling pointing to their second-half improvements as the
way to go.

Aggression and determination was visible from the
whistle as Mourinho’s recently-criticised defence shored up markedly
after the break.

“Overall, I think we do have a good record and have over a number of years,” Smalling added.

“Obviously
the Newcastle game was a setback, but there is a reaction to the fact
that when you play for the biggest clubs and you lose a game there is
that big sort of negative reaction.

“But we’re players that are ready for it and to put on performance the next game.”

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