SMALLING DESPERATE TO DENY MAN CITY
Chris Smalling has admitted the Premier League title means more to Manchester United this season because it involves trying to deny City.
The neighbours have pulled clear of the pack now and last week Sir Alex Ferguson declared he had "plenty of ammunition" for a mind-games war, with Patrick Vieira very forcefully denying launching another salvo on Wednesday.
But it all helps to increase the anticipation ahead of the final eight games of the season, with United now leading by three points.
They are likely to have been pegged back before they play again, though, as City entertain Sunderland two days before the Red Devils head to Ewood Park for Monday's encounter with Blackburn.
But Smalling has conceded United are thirsting for a record 20th crown.
"It definitely means more because it's City," said Smalling.
"It's down to us two now and it's massive.
"The media build it up and as players we definitely want to win it because we know quite a few of their players.
"It's going to be crucial to get those bragging rights for next year."
United's rise to the top of the table has come thanks to a run of nine wins and a draw from their last 10 games, a run that has coincided with the return of Paul Scholes after a brief retirement.
Yet Sir Alex Ferguson's squad have been ravaged by injury for most of the season.
Even now, Nemanja Vidic, Darren Fletcher and Anderson are out with long-term problems, Michael Owen is not due back for at least a fortnight and Nani only returned to training after an ankle injury on Monday.
"We've probably had enough injuries for most of the teams in this league," said Smalling.
"Luckily we have the squad to be able to cope but it says a lot about Manchester United that no matter the adverse conditions we have, whether it's injuries or a tough run of games, we tend to come through it.
"The manager deserves a lot of credit for that with regard to how he approaches games and uses his players."
Having claimed his first championship medal last term, Smalling is now in the midst of his second run-in.
It means he can offer advice to England Under-21 team-mate Phil Jones, who is going through it all for the first time.
"A lot of it is about learning on your feet," said Smalling.
"I found that last season. Scholes and Giggs are in double figures for titles and in the final five or 10 minutes of matches their experience will brush off on us younger ones."
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