The 26-year-old, so often an assured lynchpin in Man United’s back line this term, was guilty of several errors in a game that his side should have won comfortably.
A glance at the stats show that Smalling experienced a rough night in Tyneside: 77% passing accuracy (his average is 85%), 67% of tackles won, 50% of aerial duels won, 1 yellow card and a subsequent penalty given away.
Smalling, failing to track the run of Wijnaldum and then giving away a sloppy penalty, was accountable for Newcastle’s first two goals. And as the focal point of that defence, such ineptitude permeates through to the rest of the back line, making a late collapse inevitable.
Rarely has the Englishman looked uncomfortable at the back this season (rather, he has been a menacingly strong force at the back throughout), but when he does, United seem to crumble. Defeat to Wolfsburg acts as a fitting example, Norwich another.
In such a long and physically demanding season, Smalling is bound to have the odd ‘off-day’ here and there. And, worryingly, Louis van Gaal‘s side seem incapable of coping without Smalling in his usual pomp, as demonstrated tonight in what was a game riddled with defensive frailty.