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Smalling's recklessness typifies United's defending - talking points from the Manchester Derby

City’s title charge remains on track thanks to yet another goal from Sergio Aguero.

Chris Smalling became the third United player to be sent-off this season
Chris Smalling became the third United player to be sent-off this season
Image: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Brainless Smalling epitomises United’s haphazard defending

THE VISITORS FINISHED the game with a makeshift back line of Antonio Valencia, Michael Carrick, Paddy McNair and Luke Shaw. £200 million clearly doesn’t get you much these days. Louis van Gaal’s failure to recruit central defensive reinforcements is becoming increasingly absurd with each passing week. To be fair, he hasn’t been helped by injuries and suspensions but by the time January comes and he gets the chance to fortify his rearguard, United’s season could well be over.

Chris Smalling’s eight minutes of madness was inexcusable for a player who has now played close to 100 Premier League games. For how much longer will he, among others, be shown leniency because he’s ‘young’. Potential has an expiry date and United can no longer afford to carry deadwood and get away with it.

In Sir Alex Ferguson’s final years as manager they could get away with it. Nemanja Vidic or Rio Ferdinand could carry Smalling or Phil Jones alongside them. Now, that they’ve been asked to assume the senior role, they’re exposed. Marcus Rojo, who went off on a stretcher with a dislocated shoulder, isn’t a centre-back. Valencia is certainly not a right-back.

David de Gea must be scratching his head. When he first arrived at Old Trafford, his performances were placed under the spotlight, even with a watertight defence on front of him. Now, in the form of his life, he’s not just the last line of defence but the only line of United defence.

Look at all the best teams – even United of bygone years – and there have domineering, combative and influential individuals at the heart of the defence. You only have to look at the other end, as Vincent Kompany repelled United’s late search for an equaliser almost single handily.

At present, there in lies the difference.

Power shift continues as City extend winning run to four

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Manchester City v Manchester United - Etihad Stadium Sergio Aguero proved to be the match-winner once more Source: EMPICS Sport

Manchester City have now won the last four derbies. Since Robin van Persie endeared himself to the United fans with a last-gasp winner at the Ethiad two years ago, United have enjoyed little success against their near neighbours and the Manchester power shift is a microcosm of United’s withering stature.

Yet, City’s meteoric rise is just as responsible. During the week, van Gaal insisted that Man United remain the bigger club. There is no doubting they have a more illustrious history, a significantly bigger trophy cabinet and an unprecedented global appeal. But, what’s the worth of being able to sell replica shirts in every corner of the world if on-field prosperity is non-existent?

This was, by no means, a stellar City performance but it didn’t need to be. Like all good teams, they seized their opportunity with both hands when they were far from their best. How the roles have reversed.

As Sergio Aguero fired what proved to be the winner past de Gea, Manuel Pellegrini lept into the air. The significance of this win for City, and indeed their manager, cannot be underestimated. Defeat would have left their season hanging by a thread. As it is, they remain six points behind Chelsea and still in hot pursuit in the knowledge they have yet to click into gear.

Aguero, however, certainly has. The Argentine came into the derby with 11 goals in thirteen games and while he saw first-half efforts thwarted by de Gea, there was to be no subduing the striker. United simply cannot quieten City – they are no longer the noisy neighbours but the domineering landlords.

One step forward, two steps back for United

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Manchester City v Manchester United - Etihad Stadium It was an unhappy return to action for Wayne Rooney Source: EMPICS Sport

In the build-up to the game, Manuel Pellegrini boldly asserted that this United team was no better than the one that limped through last season under David Moyes. At Eastlands, United’s starting XI was the most expensive in Premier League history and even then, neither Juan Mata and Ander Herrera – with a combined cost of £65 million – were involved.

Yet, Pellegrini has a point. For all the big-money signings and significant investment, United are still floundering with no sense of direction. There is no ignominy in losing to the defending champions, nor can their fortitude be questioned – they had City on the back foot until the very end – but as Louis van Gaal said afterwards: “We are close but not close enough, we have to improve.”

It’s difficult to gauge just where United are going. Over the past eighteen months, they’ve showed signs of rediscovering their standing only to be knocked backwards. After an emboldening performance and result against Chelsea last week, United could have moved to within a point of City with a win. Instead, their third reversal of the season leaves the Red Devils languishing in ninth place – already four points off the Champions League berths. The roots of recovery trampled on, again.

It’s inevitable that comparisons will be made to last season. David Moyes’ United had more points at the same stage last term and this is now United’s worst start to the season since 1986. It all makes for grim reading for United fans.

Had Smalling not been sent-off, the outcome of the game may have been a whole lot different. Who knows, City’s poor run of results may have continued but the game and result typifies United over the past eighteen months – good in glimpses but ultimately not good enough.

For all of the attacking firepower, United need to rediscover the ability to grind out results when they’re not on song or else they’ll face slumping in a state of mediocrity for a while yet.

‘Stupid’ Chris Smalling cost United – Louis van Gaal

Smalling’s eight minutes of madness costs United

About the author:

Ryan Bailey

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