(Reuters) - Manchester United defender Chris Smalling believes that their battle with Liverpool to finish as Premier League runners-up behind leaders Manchester City has intensified the rivalry between the two clubs this season.
United occupy second in the league on 62 points, 16 behind City. Victory over Liverpool on Saturday will increase their advantage over Juergen Klopp’s third-placed side to five points and improve their chances of cementing second place.
The two teams played out a goalless draw at Anfield earlier in the season but Smalling suggested that their proximity in the table with nine games left this season has heightened the level of competitiveness.
“I think there’s always that rivalry, but even more this year,” Smalling told the club’s website (www.manutd.com).
“We’re a lot closer in the table than we’ve probably been for a while. The fact that we’re so close gives it an added intensity,” Smalling added.
Smalling believes the significance of the contest at Old Trafford could ensure that the home fans are even more involved, something that the 28-year-old hopes will help the team in their push for a crucial victory.
“They can definitely be the difference... I think in certain moments in this game, we’re going to need those fans to push us like never before. I think everybody is on the same wavelength about how big a win is.
“It’s a long time until you play them (Liverpool) again, so you need to get those bragging rights.”
Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge