Fellaini and Smalling switch focus to Premier League form

Marouane Fellaini and Chris Smalling are focused on climbing the Premier League standings after edging through to the Champions League knockout phase with a match to spare.

Tuesday night appeared to be going the same way as Saturday’s tepid 0-0 draw with struggling Crystal Palace, with the Old Trafford faithful growing impatient as their side toiled against Young Boys.

But Fellaini saved their blushes in stoppage time to secure a 1-0 win that propelled United into the round of 16 with a match to spare thanks to next month’s opponents Valencia losing at Juventus in the other Group H match.

Marouane Fellaini (second right) spared United's blushes against Young Boys
Marouane Fellaini (second right) spared United’s blushes against Young Boys (Martin Rickett/PA)

Early progress means Mourinho’s men can increase their focus on turning around their poor league form, with Saturday’s trip to embattled Southampton looking like the perfect opportunity to claw back the gap to the top four.

“I think the mood is good,” Fellaini said after his goalscoring heroics.

“The players are happy, but the most important thing now is to focus on Saturday and three points.

“It’s always difficult to come back from the national team. Now we have a full week of training. All the players are ready to compete and start Saturday.

“Criticism is part of football, but we have to work. We are a team, we are together, and give everything too. Together we have to move forward and take the points.”

Smalling echoed his team-mates’ sentiments after narrowly edging past Young Boys.

“We had two targets speaking before that Palace game: getting back into that top four and qualifying,” he said. “We’ve qualified now and now it’s all about our league form.”

Even given Saints’ well-documented problems, United cannot afford to play as they did at home to Palace and Young Boys.

Mourinho let out his pent-up anger on some water bottle carriers, kicking one and throwing another, after Fellaini’s late winner, with Smalling suggesting a lack of confidence played its part on Tuesday.

“We played well against them away, but we knew that at home they were going to be hard to break down,” he said of a side United managed to beat 3-0 in Switzerland.

“I think we created a lot of chances and it was deserved but they made us work for that.

“We created some good chances – not just half chances – and I think heads can dip when a few of those don’t go in.

“You could see the relief in our faces knowing that we had qualified and not have to go to Valencia and really make it hard for ourselves.”

It was, in truth, a night that brought more questions than answers, but there was the positive of a second successive clean sheet for United – albeit thanks in no small part to David De Gea’s wonderful second-half save.

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“The partnerships keep changing but it was another clean sheet and I think we need to get back to where we were in the last couple of years when we were very hard to break down,” defensive mainstay Smalling said, having paired up with Phil Jones with Victor Lindelof injured.

“It’s not ideal (to change centre-backs).

“I think you can see when you have a consistent partnership you can see there is less chances being given away.

“It is what it is and it’s something that we get used to and we’re used to playing with each other in training.”

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Football Paradise Staff Reporter

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