Chris Smalling believes City can still be caught but United will have to amp up the pressure. Photo: Georgios Kefalas/BackpagePix

LONDON – Manchester United defender Chris Smalling has hailed Jose Mourinho for building a strong defence at the club after they recorded their 14th clean sheet of the Premier League season at Burnley.

United are yet to concede a goal in 2018 and have gone 504 minutes since their defence was last breached, when Burnley midfielder Steven Defour's free-kick beat David de Gea on Boxing Day.

Along with Chelsea, United have the stingiest defence in the division -- each have conceded just 16 goals -- and Smalling credited Mourinho's work in forming that solid base following the 1-0 win over the Clarets on Saturday.

“I think we're well drilled,” he said. “Even last year I don't think we conceded many goals. It's good that as a team we can shut up shop and not give the other team too many chances, knowing that more often than not we're going to go up the other end and score because certain teams can only keep us out for so long.”

Smalling has started the past two games at the heart of the defence with Phil Jones in a centre-back partnership which has not always been available to United's managers due to injuries to both men.

Mourinho's side, in second place, temporarily reduced City's lead at the top to nine points before Pep Guardiola's men re-established a 12-point cushion by beating Newcastle United.

Smalling is retaining hope City can still be caught and knows United have to amp up the pressure if they are playing before their rivals as they did on Saturday.

“We've all been there where leads have dwindled and teams have been caught but we can only focus on ourselves,” he added. “There is still a big points-gap and we just need to make sure we win our games because if we don't then there's no point even talking about it.”