Liverpool v Manchester United Europa League: Chris Smalling setting his sights on a big Euro goal
Chris Smalling is determined to stop Manchester United missing out on the Champions League for just the second time in 21 years.
Life after Sir Alex Ferguson began with a bump as two years ago the Red Devils failed to qualify for European football's top competition for the first time since 1995.
David Moyes paid for that failure with his job and reports continue to suggest that successor Louis van Gaal could follow suit after a difficult Premier League campaign for the Old Trafford club.
United have slipped three points behind fourth-placed Manchester City, whose Champions League hopes are boosted by the fact they also have a game in hand.
Europa League glory offers another route to the the continent's top table and, having been part of Moyes' faltering side two years ago, Smalling is determined to get there by hook or by crook.
"I think it is (felt by the players) - it was the first time," the 26-year-old said ahead of tonight's Europa League last-16 first leg against Liverpool.
"We've still got a lot of games to play in the league. Obviously we have another route in the Europa League to make sure that doesn't happen again.
"We're all striving forward and looking forward to make sure that doesn't happen for a second time."
Liverpool find themselves in a similar predicament due to their own topsy-turvy campaign, which leaves them a place and three points worse off than United in sixth.
It adds extra motivation as the old foes prepare to do battle in continental competition for the first time.
"Whether it's the league or cup, it's a game that we all look forward to," Smalling said.
"Especially after the disappointment (of losing 1-0 at West Brom) on Sunday, this is a game we're all looking forward to. It's one where we need to stand up and be counted."