"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," says Smalling.
"In one sense it is good to get them out of the way. 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."