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Smalling holds out fitness hope

Manchester United defender Chris Smalling is praying that his team-mates come back from international duty unscathed so that they can continue their march towards the Premier League title.

Smalling will be on England duty for their World Cup qualifying games against San Marino and Montenegro, while a host of United's top talent is flying around the world for other qualifiers before they return to face Sunderland on March 30 then Chelsea in the FA Cup quarter-final replay on Easter Monday, less than 48 hours later.

"The 15-point lead looks good now," Smalling told the official club website. "But we go away to join up with our national teams and hopefully everyone can come back fit because we then have two big games against Sunderland and Chelsea. That could be a key edge in terms of how the league and cup goes. So that will be a big few days for us.

"It's a massive incentive for us to hold onto this lead. It's a bigger lead than last year but we can't rest on our laurels and we want to make sure we finish the job this season."

Wayne Rooney, Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck, Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley are all part of England's squad, while Rio Ferdinand was forced to pull out due to a pre-planned medical and training programme, and Smalling believes it can only be good for club and country to have so many involved.

"All through the season it has started to pick up in terms of how many United players are in the squad," he added. "With Phil [Jones]coming back there could be eight of us. That's good to keep people around you that you know."

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