Chris Smalling has made note of how beating Manchester City at the Ethiad has instilled in Manchester United players the belief they can win the Premier League title next season.
Pep Guardiola’s side, who knew a win against their rivals would seal the title, were 2-0 up at half time and seemingly destined to get something of a cricket score.
But Man United, spearheaded by Paul Pogba, produced a truly historic comeback to win the game 3-2, with Chris Smalling scoring the winner from an Alexis Sanchez free-kick.
Man City won the title by 19 points in the end but Smalling, speaking earlier this week, noted that beating them at the Ethiad – something no other Premier League team did last term – had given players an enormous psychological boost going into the 2018/19 campaign.
“We beat City at the Etihad so we know we can do it,” he said. “When we played against the top teams, I thought we performed well whereas in other seasons we maybe let ourselves down against the top teams.”
“They are the one team who finished above us. We need to make sure we don’t open up any gaps.
“It’s going to be a tough season and most of the tops teams have added players and they will be stronger than they were last season.”
United, for the first time since 2013, showed genuine muscle against the top sides under Jose Mourinho last season: beating Tottenham Hotspur twice, doing a league double over Arsenal, beating Chelsea, drawing with Liverpool at Anfield and dispatching them at home, alongside *that* win at the Ethiad, which will go down in Premier League history.
That said, they were far from perfect. Home defeats to Man City, Sevilla and West Bromwich Albion brought out the worst in this United team. That those humiliations exist alongside the dizzy highs achieved last season show Mourinho’s side to have the chutzpah necessary to scalp big silverware, to dominate big games, but perhaps not the steel to maintain the required level over nine months. They have the chance to dispel that notion this season.