Chris Smalling.

Smalling: Home games are key to our ambitions

Chris Smalling believes Manchester United's remaining home games will decisively shape what the Reds can achieve this season.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s charges are two points behind fourth-placed Arsenal, and three off Tottenham Hotspur in third, heading into Saturday’s important Premier League match with Watford. Then, after a trip to Wolves, United welcome Spanish champions Barcelona to the Theatre of Dreams for the first leg of our Champions League quarter-final tie.

“I think our results at Old Trafford are going to determine how our season goes,” Smalling told United Review in an exclusive interview, ahead of our first game at the Theatre of Dreams since the 3-2 win over Southampton on 2 March.

“Getting back in front of our fans is exactly what we need.”

Chris Smalling celebrates goal against Watford.
Smalling was on the scoresheet when we last faced Watford back in September.

The centre-back, who made his 200th Premier League appearance for the club during our recent trip to Arsenal, is wary of the threat posed by this weekend’s visitors, Watford, who are eighth in the table and have also reached the Emirates FA Cup semi-finals under their impressive Spanish manager Javi Gracia.

“They’re a proven Premier League team that is always difficult,” acknowledged the 29-year-old. “Obviously, earlier in the season we were in a different moment, but that was a close game that eventually we won comfortably [Watford were beaten 2-1 at Vicarage Road in September].

“But they’ve got a lot of threats and like to play direct with [Troy] Deeney, and they’ve got some good wingers as well, so we know it’s going to be a tough game. But when we’re at home, we need to get on the front foot and take control.

“Quite often they play two up top, so we know it’s not going to be a team that’s just gonna sit back. I think they’ll come on to us, which will hopefully give us more opportunities to come onto them, so it should make for a very good game.”

Our no.12 smashed home a superb swivel volley to help us seal three points in that last meeting down south – a strike that drew comparisons with a Ruud van Nistelrooy goal at Charlton in November 2005.

“We’d been working on a lot of set plays at that time,” recalled Smalling. “Not necessarily finishes like that! But it was nice to be able to get up and running for the season, and hopefully I can get a few more.”

That goal remains the Greenwich-born player’s solitary effort so far in 2018/19, but he insists he and his colleagues must be ready to take any chance that falls to them in what is sure to be a tight game.

Ruud van Nistelrooy and Chris Powell.
Smalling's Watford stunner stirred memories of Ruud's spin-and-volley against Charlton in 2005.
Smalling watched the Hornets’ recent match against league leaders Manchester City, where Gracia’s men held the Blues at 0-0 until half-time and were unfortunate to go behind to Raheem Sterling’s controversial opener after the break. But the defender is adamant that United will need to be similarly clinical today (Saturday). 
 
“I saw the highlights and I think everyone agreed City’s first should have been offside,”
he remembers.
“But it’s about taking those key moments. The first goal is crucial and then it’s about just asserting ourselves and putting pressure on. Then you know you’re going to create more chances with the team that we’ve got.”
 
You can read the full interview with Chris in Saturday’s issue of United Review. If you are not attending the match, you can buy a copy via manutd.com/programme.
 
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