Chris Smalling believes Manchester United's tough start to the Premier League season could eventually prove to be in their favour.
The early-season schedule had new United boss David Moyes scratching his head, asking for clarification from officials that the fixtures had been drawn at random.
United travel to Swansea on Saturday before matches against likely title rivals Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City, with only a home tie against likely strugglers Crystal Palace that could be deemed anything like an 'easy' game.
But Smalling sees things differently, saying: "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.
"In one sense, it is good to get them out of the way.
"The Swansea game has been in our minds for a while. 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."
Competition for places
The new season brings the same challenge for Smalling, who is likely battling with Phil Jones for the right-back slot with Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans likely to battle for central roles.
"It does make it tough," he added. "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.
"I just want to stay injury free. 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."
You can watch Swansea City take on Manchester United on Sky Sports 1HD and Sky Sports 3D from 17:00 on Saturday.