Chris Smalling Says Manchester United Must 'Stick Together'

Chris Smalling Says Manchester United Must 'Stick Together'

Chris Smalling has urged his Manchester United teammates to "stick together" after the club's worst start to a season in 24 years.

Adam Lallana's late leveller earned the Southampton point at Old Trafford on Saturday, leaving United eighth in the table in late October.

Smalling, a late substitute introduced to offer United "some height at set pieces" at the weekend, insists the champions have rallied in training since the deflating draw.

Smalling arrived for Wayne Rooney with United 1-0 up against Southampton

"It was a disappointing one, to lose the lead so late on in the game," Smalling told HuffPost UK Sport. "But we've picked ourselves up and trained the last couple of days and are really working on the next game so we make up for that.

"You need to just really make sure you can play out the game. It was very unfortunate. I saw the goal back again and it wasn't the cleanest of goals."

Smalling is adamant the drastic managerial transition is not an excuse United can use for their inconsistent start.

"Sir Alex Ferguson is a big loss but with David Moyes coming in, there's not been a massive upheaval," Smalling stresses. "I think it's just a case of us not getting our consistency right at the minute. We've had some good games, we've had some bad games.

"We just need to stick together over these next few games, get a good few wins and we'll get the consistency back that's really been known with United over the years."

This is a potentially seminal season for Smalling, now 23, and not just because of Moyes' arrival.

Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić, United's bedrock in defence for seven years, are both out of contract next summer and it is another incentive for Smalling to seize upon in a World Cup year.

"It is a season you can look upon as very important," Smalling admits. "The last couple of seasons have been a bit stop-start and if I can just build up that trust with the manager, who's still getting to know his players and looking for the players he can trust on a consistent basis to give good performances, I want to be one of the first on the team sheet."

A World Cup berth has reinforced Smalling's focus after injury in United's penultimate game of the 2011-12 season scuppered his chances of travelling to the European Championship. Smalling concedes playing under Hodgson, who brought him to Fulham as a teenager, has allowed him to "play some more games for England" despite his squad role status at United.

Smalling could force his way into England's defence due to the paucity of options

The Greenwich-born defender talks of wanting to "effect the game more in an attacking way" and "kick on to a new level". Not short of impetus this season, Smalling refuses to be sidetracked by the eight injuries he suffered in 18 months.

"The timing of that injury couldn't have been worse," he reflects of the groin injury which, as well as a metatarsal fracture, sidelined him for six months. "I think it's going to work in that a very positive way to have such an incentive, like the World Cup, at the end of the season. That carrot that if you have a great season and you perform really consistently you have a good chance of being able to take part in it is great."

Southampton was the first of four consecutive home matches for United, with Real Sociedad's visit followed by Stoke in the league and Norwich City in the Capital One Cup. Timely reminders that, crisis or no crisis, United are competing on all fronts.

Moyes has certainly tried to impose himself. Marouane Fellaini was the sole summer transfer arrival but the Scot wanted at least one other central midfielder and attempted to bring in Leighton Baines and then Fabio Coentrão. Certain players have become marginalised while others are in the process of being phased out.

A hands-on coach, training is more intense under Moyes and the younger players, including Smalling, relish it. There are still parallels with Ferguson's approach, though.

"In ways they're very similar because they want to do a lot of possession-type touch training which, as players we enjoy, and they are both very thorough," Smalling explains. "We've got three or four different parts to train now and he [Moyes] will have it all set out on different pitches, so you know exactly what you're going to do. It's very easily laid out and constructive."

Smalling is unhesitant when asked about his preferred position at centre-back. Although solid supporting Andros Townsend at right-back for England last week, he experienced a chastening experience in last month's derby demolition at the hands of City and played there in the infamous 6-1 defeat two years ago.

He is "most comfortable" in central defence and is also more comfortable communicating with David de Gea. When Smalling arrived at Old Trafford in 2010 he was supported by 39-year-old Edwin van der Sar, about to enjoy a stellar final campaign during United's 19th title win.

De Gea, the same age as Smalling when he arrived, is now a chirpier character in the dressing room after a "lazy" start.

"The communication was always going to come in time because it was a big upheaval for him to come over to England and not know the language too well," Smalling says. "But his English now is very good and his form has made him a bit more comfortable as well. You could see even after training it was very hard for him to communicate but you can see now he's really bubbly and enjoying just being around with the other lads because he can converse with them well."

Smalling says De Gea is a "bubblier" character in the United dressing room

De Gea and Smalling are just two youngsters entrusted by Moyes to maintain United's success in the post-Ferguson period, and they are now supported by Adnan Januzaj.

The Belgian has emerged as a key cog in Moyes' side at the age of just 18 and after only two career starts. Smalling is unsurprised by his stratospheric rise.

"Ever since pre-season I could see from his class he was going to be a top player," Smalling purrs. "His skills, in terms of the way he works the ball, and his vision made it only a matter of time before he got his chance and he's well and truly taken that. When he's dribbling at you he has got that ability to knock it and run past you, and I didn't realise he was that quick until pre-season."

A Premier League champion twice, Smalling has received recognition on the terraces as well as the touchline and is well aware of his wry chant United fans belt out, thanks to his brother. And away from Champions League fixtures and a World Cup, Smalling is one of the few first-teamers at United not bitten by the Twitter craze, though he hinted he may eventually yield.

"I remember the days when just Rio was on it and now it seems half the squad are," he laughs. "I think it's good you can interact with a lot of the fans, it is something I may do in the future," he adds cautiously.

It has at least allowed him to keep an eye out on Maidstone United's progress in the Ryman League. Smalling spent three years at the club as a teenager before Fulham spotted his potential after a botched move to Middlesbrough.

"A few of my friends live around that area and they've seen the rise Maidstone have had. They've got a really good following since they sorted out the stadium. It's nice to see them doing well when Sky Sports News comes on and their league appears and Maidstone are top."

The task for Smalling is to help United return to the top.

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