Manchester United defender Chris Smalling realises the final straight in the Premier League presents him with an opportunity to establish himself in a central position with at least one space set to open up next season.
Nemanja Vidic will leave for Inter Milan on a free transfer in the summer, providing a chance for Smalling and others to cement a centre-back role. It may also be that Rio Ferdinand leaves the club - all the better for Smalling from a personal point of view.
Smalling was picked ahead of Ferdinand for Manchester United’s clash with Bayern Munich in the Champions League this week, playing alongside Vidic, and is hopeful David Moyes will afford him yet more chances in the club’s last five games of the season.
"I’ve wanted this opportunity to make my mark in the middle," Smalling told the official Manchester United website.
"I hope I can do that before the end of the season and, next term, I can be a main man in that position. There is always pressure whenever you go out to play for United but I thrive on it.”
But while Smalling knows it is up to him to impress his manager in the business end of the campaign, he also realises that the decision on Manchester United’s first-choice centre-back pairing will be out of his hands, particularly given the expected activity in the transfer window.
"There’s always going to be a lot of activity [in the transfer window] and I expect there will be some with us,” Smalling added. “But whoever plays now will have to do well so that they’re not replaced."
One central defender who now seems unlikely to move to Old Trafford is Matthias Ginter of Freiburg. Manchester United had been linked with the 20-year-old Germany international, but he will reportedly complete an €8 million transfer to Borussia Dortmund.