LONDON • Manchester United defender Chris Smalling believes manager Louis van Gaal has finally discovered a winning formula ahead of Newcastle United's visit to Old Trafford today.
Van Gaal chopped and changed his side at the start of his United reign last season and had to wait four games for his first English Premier League win. But 12 months later, the United boss is reaping the rewards of selecting a more settled line-up.
While he may make the odd tweak against Newcastle this weekend, with Bastian Schweinsteiger pressing for a first start in midfield, continuity appears to be the key. That is particularly the case in defence with the same goalkeeper and back four likely to continue their 100 per cent first-XI attendance this season.
Smalling is one of those to have benefited from this continuity and he should carry on alongside Daley Blind in the heart of defence.
The England international is convinced the selection policy is paying off as United have kept clean sheets in their two league games against Tottenham and Aston Villa.
"Last season there were many changes and it was hard to get a good run," he said.
Ironically though, the talk at United yesterday was on the club's failure to bring in new faces who could walk into the first team.
Smalling, for example, might not have started the season had United secured the signing of Real Madrid centre-back Sergio Ramos.
The Spain international's contract extension at the Bernabeu was then swiftly followed by Chelsea's €30 million (S$47 million) signing of Barcelona forward Pedro Rodriguez - a player United were strongly linked with.
That forced van Gaal to defend Ed Woodward yesterday, insisting United's vice-chairman is well capable of bringing the players he wants to Old Trafford.
"I have the idea that you want to separate Ed Woodward with me," the Dutchman told a news conference yesterday.
"No. Never. Every day I am updated by him and I trust him."
Van Gaal also claimed he was not disappointed to have missed out on Pedro. "I think when we want Pedro it was not any problem because there was a (release) clause in his contract," he said. "It was the easiest transfer.
"If you ask me if Pedro fits the profile (of player that United want), I cannot lie; I say yes. But I didn't say I am interested in the player. That is the difference."
United's current squad are just one of four teams with a 100 per cent record in the Premier League. And with an early kick-off to look forward to against winless Newcastle today, Smalling wants United to steal an early march on their rivals for top spot. "We must continue our good start. It is another home game and we have to assert ourselves early on," he said.
United will again be without midfielder Marouane Fellaini, who scored in their midweek Champions League win against Club Brugge but still has to complete the final instalment of his domestic three-match ban. Defender Phil Jones is also absent through injury.
France Under-21 international midfielder Florian Thauvin hopes to make his Newcastle debut at Old Trafford after sealing his move from Marseille.
Newcastle's Dutch full-back Daryl Janmaat is suspended after his red card in the 0-2 defeat by Swansea that leaves Steve McClaren's side searching for their first victory of the season, at a ground where they have won just once in 43 years.
MANCHESTER UNITED v NEWCASTLE
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