Smalling senselessness sours special Manchester derby day
The first thing a manager tells his players before a bitter derby day encounter is to keep a cool head. Understandably, rash challenges in the heat of the moment may be made with adrenaline pumping due to the roaring crowd.
However, Manchester United defender Chris Smalling ruined whatever chance his side had of taking something from their away date with neighbours City.
No one likes it when a referee attempts to take control of a big game to become centre of attention by sending off a player early, thus ruining the occasion, but Michael Oliver had every reason to issue the two yellow cards.
Smalling earned his first caution by needlessly challenging City keeper Joe Hart, who was attempting to kick the ball from out his hands. Then, not long later and with six minutes until half time, the England centre back took down a charging James Milner on the edge of the box.
There were no complaints from Smalling, as he rightly hid his head in his shirt, but his teammates must surely have been seething, in a match they had been looking forward to all season.
David de Gea kept the Red Devils in the game, though, for much of the match with as string of highly impressive saves once more, but was unable to keep out Sergio Aguero’s effort in the 63th minute.
Argentine attacker Aguero smashed the ball in the middle of the area from late call-up to the line-up Gael Clichy’s pass from the left flank. The Frenchman stepped in after Aleksandar Kolarov picked up a knock in the warm-up, and impressed throughout.
By the time of Aguero’s goal, United’s defence was already depleted, with Michael Carrick, playing his first game of the season, having to replace Adnan Januzaj after Smalling’s sending off.
Marcos Rojo then suffered a shoulder injury early in the second half, so had to go off for young Northern Irishman Paddy McNair. That meant that for much of the match, Louis van Gaal’s back four consisted of two teenagers (Luke Shaw and McNair), one midfielder (Carrick) and a winger (Antonio Valencia).
The visitors rarely tested Hart, until late on when captain Wayne Rooney, returning from his three-match ban, made a surging charge, only to lack end product. Angel Di Maria somehow picked up the ball, though, but saw his low angled effort saved wide by the England number one.
Marouane Fellaini also had a couple of headed chances to equalise, but did not test Hart in the end. It was a nervy last 10 minutes for City, but they managed to hold on and claim their fourth successive win against arch rivals United.
Dutchman Van Gaal will take some consolation from the fact that his side did not suffer the same fate when they were trounced 6-1 at Old Trafford two seasons ago, after Jonny Evans’ early exit.
But City really could and should have scored more, though were perhaps unfortunate with a number of penalty claims turned down. However, all that will matter to them is the three points, which now put them up into third, and six points behind leaders Chelsea.
The result means that Man Utd are now on their lowest amount of points (13) in the English top-flight after the opening 10 games since 1986, in Sir Alex Ferguson’s first season in charge.
Van Gaal’s men are now down in ninth in the Premier League and four points off the top four. They next face Crystal Palace at home, which surely must be seen as a must-win game, with a tricky trip to Arsenal their fixture after that.