The versatile defender has often played at full-back for the Reds but was chosen to partner Nemanja Vidic in the centre for Wednesday’s 3-1 Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich.
The 24-year-old was one of United’s key men at Allianz Arena, typifying a resolute rearguard display from the team that lasted an hour until Bayern broke through.
With Vidic leaving the club at the end of the season and the possibility of new signings in the summer, Smalling is keen to shine in the last five Barclays Premier League games.
"I’ve wanted this opportunity to make my mark in the middle," he told reporters. "I hope I can do that before the end of the season and, next term, I can be a main man in that position. There is always pressure whenever you go out to play for United but I thrive on it.
"There’s always going to be a lot of activity [in the transfer window] and I expect there will be some with us. But whoever plays now will have to do well so that they’re not replaced."
Smalling feels United need to hit the ground running next term to make up for a below-par 2013/14 campaign. "We all know it’s not been good enough this season but we’ll have to put it behind us and really make up for it next year.
"We’ve taken one step forward and two back too many times this season. But if we can finish well, hopefully we’ll go into next season stronger than ever and prove the doubters wrong."