It all started so well. Today was definitely a day where Manchester United could end the recent run of Manchester City in derby games and that became abundantly obvious from the very start.
United were dominant in the early exchanges. Confident in possession and energetic when City were on the ball, United refused to offer City any space in possession and it meant they were hurried and rushed when trying to carve out attacks.
It gave United the upper hand and until the latter part of the first half, City were kept quiet. When they did show some gusto, David de Gea was there to answer any question they asked of him. It was always going to plan until a certain defender decided to throw a cat amongst the pigeons…
Chris Smalling should hang his head in shame. Manchester United were doing so well up until Smalling decided to get himself sent off with two entirely avoidable yellow cards.
His first for blocking Joe Hart’s goal kick was playground stupidity and his second was that of a man who had absolutely no awareness for the situation which he was in. Why would he have risked that sliding challenge if he thought about the fact he was on a yellow card for even a split second?
Smalling has engraved his own headstone with his a red card today against City. United fans won’t forget about that in a hurry.
The competitive edge is back for good at United. If United were 1-0 down at the Etihad with 15 minutes to go under David Moyes, he would have thrown on another defensive midfielder and held out for a brave 1-0 loss. To him, it would almost have been a victory.
Louis van Gaal has an altogether different mindset. Instead of settling for the loss, the Dutchman pushed United forward and forced City to retreat into their shell. They were a bag of nerves for the last 15 minutes. United were on the ascendency.
The result is entirely irrelevant at this stage. It’s the mere fact United are competing until the last whistle again.
United could have won today. United had ten men for more than half of the game but if somebody started watching from half-time, they wouldn’t have been able to tell which side had ten men.
United were the aggressors. United pushed City backwards. United had the better chances. United were in control. For a team with ten men for 45 minutes away in a derby, it was an extremely impressive performance. City were a bag of nerves.
If United had 11 men from the start, what would they have done today? It’s sometimes harsh to point fingers but Smalling needs to bury his need in the sand for the next week at least.