Chris Smalling
Chris Smalling has been one of Manchester United's top performers this seasonGetty

Manchester United defender Chris Smalling has admitted the rumours regarding him being replaced last summer have been the driving factor behind his rise to prominence this season. Smalling was a mainstay in the United backline in 2015, fully establishing himself as the club's leader at the back in the first half of the 2015-16 season, where he has made more appearances than any of his teammates.

United were relentlessly linked with a move for another centre half in the summer with Nicolas Otamendi (now of Manchester City) and Borussia Dortmund's Mats Hummels among those strongly paired with moves to Old Trafford.

And having seen such names linked with the club, names that could have possibility left him out in the cold, Smalling admitted that the transfer speculation has helped him reach new heights.

"It does spur you on," Smalling told United's official website. "When you come to Manchester United, in every transfer window – whether the team is doing well or badly – there are always players linked with the club because this club is always linked with the best players.

"It keeps you on your toes and spurs you on. You can't rest on six months of good performances because as soon as you have a blip, there is always another player to take your place."

Smalling has featured in 29 games already this season in what has been his longest injury-free run since arriving at the club in 2011.

"I have been happy with the past year, I have stayed relatively injury-free and have been able to play games, build up and keep learning. I take a lot of positives from that.

"Towards the end of last season and in the summer, somebody needed to step up and make sure they were consistent. In the last couple of years we have had a lot of injuries in the centre-back positions, so in these last 12 months I have been happy and injury-free with the manager's faith.

"I don't make too many resolutions but if I can stay injury-free again then I would wish for that, and also to contribute to success with United and England."