Belfast Telegraph

Smalling set to return to the fray

Manchester United defender Chris Smalling has declared himself fit and ready to launch himself back into the Premier League title battle.

Smalling has spent the last three weeks trying to overcome a head injury sustained in a clash of heads with Klaas Jan Huntelaar in England's friendly with Holland last month. His first comeback, wearing a Petr Cech-style cap, had to be aborted when the former Fulham defender split his stitches in the Europa League home defeat to Athletic Bilbao.

The 22-year-old has fully recovered now though and came through a midweek reserve-team outing against Aston Villa without a problem, and he said: "I feel good. It was the first time I'd not played with any protection and I came through it well."

He added: "The manager wants everyone out on that field to make sure he has a good squad to choose from. That can only be beneficial in the weeks ahead. Having everyone fighting for a place and raring to go will help us."

Manager Sir Alex Ferguson has made the point on numerous occasions his players tend to recover when the season is reaching its conclusion and the major prizes are being handed out.

This season is no exception. And unusually for United, this time around they only have one match a week ahead of them after being eliminated from every cup competition far earlier than they would normally expect.

That may have a benefit though as they look to hold off Manchester City and claim a record 20th championship.

The order of fixtures may also play a part as United follow their neighbours into action for the next two weekends, which could pitch them into a tense game of catch-up.

"I don't think it makes too much of a difference," said Smalling.

"City will obviously feel the pressure to try and go ahead of us but we've dealt with that before and I don't think it will matter either way."


From Belfast Telegraph