Manchester United centre half Chris Smalling has described the fixture between Liverpool and Manchester United as “the one”, as he prepares to do battle on Monday. Smalling, who has featured eight times for United this season, will most likely line up alongside Eric Bailly in defence and will probably face a front trio of Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and the in form Philippe Coutinho. United’s number 12 will hope that the result on Monday night will not be reminiscent of his first experience at Anfield, when Dirk Kuyt netted a hattrick for the home side.
Smalling, who signed from Fulham back in the summer of 2010, believes there is no better place to win than at Liverpool and that United need to be careful of the home side’s pressing game under Jurgen Klopp. If United do overcome Liverpool it will be two years on the bounce, following Wayne Rooney’s – his first goal at Anfield in 11 years – solitary goal in a 1-0 victory in January.
“Yeah, it is the one. Even when I first joined up here, they all mentioned that obviously you know about City and United. But Liverpool – this is the one. With the way the rivalry has brewed over the years because it’s been so competitive, it was stressed to me and especially the new lads now how important this fixture is. They have always been tough games. I think even in the last one [in January], they probably played far better than us but we took our chance. We know they’re a high-pressing team and we’re not going to get much time on the ball, so we need to be prepared for that. It’s not easy, especially for us defenders, because they make it very difficult for us to play out. Quite often, against some teams, we can be quite relaxed and have a lot of the ball but Liverpool are a high-energy pressing team and, even when you win it back, they can be at their most dangerous, as they’re right at you. If you don’t move it on, you’re going to get tackled. It’s a very difficult job for us midfielders and defenders to make sure we dictate the play.”
Smalling went on to speak about the intensity of the first 15 minutes in the tie and how tactics can go out the window.
“All week, we’ll be working on tactics and quite often, in the first 15 minutes, the plans can go right out of the window until the game settles down. It’s one of those where we must keep a cool head and implement our game plan to exert pressure on them. It is intense. It’s 100 miles per hour. It’s one of those where the manager has stressed again this week we need to keep our emotions in check because even players who haven’t been at United long know how important this fixture is. It’s about controlling our emotions and keeping all our men on the pitch. It’s a game where I think you need to play to your maximum. Quite often on the pitch, you’re trying to call to the midfielders to say there is a man there but it’s so loud and the atmosphere is so alive, it’s just your blood flowing through your body that makes it hard to control those emotions.”
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