Manchester United gave Manchester City a warning sign of what is to come next season, United defender Chris Smalling believes after the Red Devils’ incredible comeback from 2-0 down to win 3-2.
City would have sealed the Premier League title with victory against their local rivals, and are still well set to win the league for a fifth time as they boast a 13-point lead over United with six games to go.
However, by fighting back United consolidated their place in second, four points clear of Liverpool, and sent a message that they can compete with City next season.
United also still have a shot at silverware when they face Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup semifinals in two weeks’ time.
“It’s about making sure that we can stand up tall against our rivals,” Smalling said.
“This is definitely sending out a marker for the rest of the season and beyond. We’ve got some great objectives.
“Making sure we own that second spot and the fact that obviously we’ve got Tottenham in a semifinal is a great reward in that competition. We need to make sure we get to that final.”
‘No better feeling’
United’s fightback was kickstarted by Paul Pogba silencing his critics after a deeply disappointing season by scoring twice in two minutes just after half-time.
Pogba has often been dropped by Jose Mourinho for United’s biggest games despite costing a then world record £89 million ($125 million) in 2016.
And United’s other marquee signing of the Mourinho era, Alexis Sanchez, also came good after a poor start to his time at Old Trafford by setting up Pogba’s second and Smalling’s winner.
“Alexis is always looking to try and thread those balls, and Paul’s runs are a danger to any team,” Smalling said.
“It’s good that they’ve been able to link in together. It’s a great, great turnaround.”
Smalling has now scored three times against City in Manchester derbies.
However, he acknowledged he was especially relieved to net the winner 21 minutes from time after being outmuscled by City captain Vincent Kompany for the hosts’ opening goal.
“I think there’s no better feeling than to score that winner in a derby and obviously make up for the first goal, which was my mistake,” added the England international.
“But when you get a chance like that to hopefully make amends and contribute a winner is a great feeling.”