LONDON, United Kingdom, Feb 27 – Chris Smalling says securing the Premier League runners-up spot must be the “bare minimum” for Manchester United, whose win against Chelsea gave them a major confidence boost in the race for Champions League places.
United never ended the season lower than third in the Premier League era under Alex Ferguson but 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.
“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 (Chelsea) a massive blow and us a lift.”
Manchester City are 13 points clear at the top of the table with a game in hand but only six points separate United in second from Chelsea in fifth, with just four Champions League places up for grabs.
“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,” said Smalling.