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(Reuters) - Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho's criticism of defenders Chris Smalling and Phil Jones for their "cautious approach" towards recovery from injury reflects his desire to have them on the field, England international Smalling has said.
The defensive duo sustained respective knee and foot injuries while training with England in March and Mourinho criticised their mentality as they were unable to return for United's congested fixture list of nine games in April.
"You can take positives from it in that the manager wants you out on that pitch," Smalling told British media. "He wants you to represent him and be that fighter and warrior for him.
"Obviously with a knee injury there are certain protocols that need to happen. With the medical staff and with the coaches, we are pushing all the time.
"All throughout my injury we spoke about the process and when I would be back, so it is good that the manager wants you because ultimately he has got that decision of whether you play or not."
United are winless in their last four Premier League games, a run that has left them sixth in the table and Smalling said that the side's position called for improvement next season.
"It does eat away at you," Smalling said. "With where we are in the league now, it eats away at you that all those teams are above you and the points that you have dropped.
"We will learn a lot from this year to make sure that we don't get this same feeling again.
"Even with the EFL (League) Cup and the Europa League, we are far better than that position. We haven't shown that but next season we will definitely rectify that."
United travel to Southampton on Wednesday and host Crystal Palace in the final league game of the season on Sunday before heading to Stockholm to face Dutch side Ajax in the Europa League final on May 24.
Reporting by Aditi Prakash in Bengaluru