Feb 17 2013
Chris Smalling has admitted he was stunned to discover it is nine years since Manchester United last lifted the FA Cup.
United have a proud record in the competition, having won it 11 times, more than any other club, and it was famously Sir Alex Ferguson's first trophy as United manager. Indeed, that replay win over Crystal Palace sparked a run of four triumphs in the competition within nine seasons.
However, the successes dried up after the Red Devils defeated Championship outfit Millwall at the Millennium Stadium in 2004. They have lost two finals and two semi-finals since. And Smalling said: "I was quite shocked at how long it has been since United won the FA Cup. It is a massive competition and one we all look forward to."
He added: "Before we played West Ham in the third round, the manager stressed how much we wanted to win this tournament. There are quite a lot of lads who haven't won it despite being here for quite a while."
With plenty of changes anticipated for the fifth-round tie against Reading at Old Trafford on Monday night, including the likelihood of a start for Smalling, from the team that drew with Real Madrid on Wednesday, the strength of Ferguson's squad is now becoming evident.
And, though the faces will change, there should be no lack of confidence given United are on a 15-match unbeaten run stretching back to a home loss to CFR Cluj in the Champions League two months ago.
"There is a lot of confidence and the results are showing," said Smalling. "We are going for three competitions, so there are plenty of matches for the whole squad to play in and we are peaking at the right time."
And Ferguson has made it clear he sees no reason why United cannot challenge for honours on all three fronts, and potentially emulate that historic 1999 Treble-winning campaign.
"The manager has stressed that he expects to go to the end in all three competitions," said Smalling. "The FA Cup is notoriously unpredictable. Luton reached the fifth round this year, which shows that anything can happen so there is no point looking too far ahead."
In addition to Smalling, 14-goal striker Javier Hernandez is a likely starter. Wide-men Ashley Young and Nani will also hope to be involved, while Tom Cleverley and Anderson should be chomping at the bit after also missing out on a starting berth at the Bernabeu.