Chris Smalling believes Manchester United's tough start to the Premier League campaign could ultimately work to their advantage.
Manager David Moyes was so concerned at United's opening five games, which send them to Swansea for the start of their title defence tomorrow before matches against Chelsea, Liverpool, Crystal Palace and Manchester City, that he contacted league officials.
Moyes got a reassurance the schedule was arrived at purely at random.
Nevertheless, the new boss feels it is United's toughest start for 20 years.
Yet the spin-off is that positive results will put the Red Devils' challengers under pressure, which is how Smalling prefers to look at it.
"We've got some big fixtures at the start of the season but if we can put on some really good performances and pick up a few points it's going to give us a big boost and set us apart from our rivals," said Smalling, speaking before Moyes had his say on the fixtures.
"In one sense it is good to get them out of the way."
The positive outlook is one United need to take with them to Swansea, where they have been given two tough examinations since the south Wales outfit returned to the top flight.
Personally, Moyes has a good record at the Liberty Stadium though, with Everton scoring five times and keeping clean sheets on their visits in the last two seasons.
"The Swansea game has been in our minds for a while," Smalling told manutd.com.
"Going into the season as champions brings an expectation.
"We're seen as the best but we know we need to show it but we're firing and ready to go. We can't wait for that first whistle."
Yet Smalling has a battle just trying to get into Moyes' starting line-up.
Even without the expected reinforcements Smalling is facing competition from skipper Nemanja Vidic and long-time central defensive partner Rio Ferdinand, and if they do not get in then Moyes also has Jonny Evans to fall back on.
Rafael's absence with a hamstring injury means the right-back spot is available, which both Smalling and Phil Jones could fill.
But Londoner Smalling accepts the challenge for starting berths is intense.
"It does make it tough," he said.
"When I first joined there were a lot of centre-backs and it was the same last season.
"It makes it really competitive because everyone is looking for one of those two spots.
"It keeps us on our toes that's for sure."
Smalling knows the chances of him forcing his way into Moyes' team on a regular basis will be enhanced by staying fit, something he has been unable to do since he broke his foot in the final weeks of the 2011-12 season, wrecking his chances of appearing at Euro 2012.
A second operation was required prior to last term, ruling the 23-year-old out until November, after which he struggled to string a run of regular games together.
Despite missing the start of United's pre-season tour of Australia and the Far East, Smalling has now recovered and was called upon at Wembley on Sunday to replace Rafael when he limped off early in the game.
"I just want to stay injury free," he said. "Being out was so frustrating. I don't think I played after Easter because of my foot.
"It makes such a difference when you get a proper pre-season under your belt. Without it, you are catching up a little bit.
"I feel good at the moment. I'm not far off (being 100% match fit) now. I feel confident and it is just about getting that sharpness back."
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