The Manchester United defender was described as 'humble' by his manager after his foolish red card cost his side dearly in the 1-0 defeat to rivals City on Sunday
By Greg Stobart at Etihad Stadium
Given the public knowledge about some of Louis Van Gaal’s changing room talks, one would imagine his feedback to Chris Smalling after the Manchester derby would have been far stronger than the "not very smart" rebuke given publicly to the defender following his red card on Sunday.
The Manchester United manager appeared calm in his press conference in the wake of his side’s 1-0 defeat to rivals City but internally must have been furious with Smalling’s stupidity.
While defeat is never excusable for a club of United's size, the rest of the players came out of the derby with a lot of credit and they could have stolen a draw in the closing stages.
But they were let down by Smalling, who was sent off in the 38th minute for collecting two bookings. The first was an utterly needless attempt to stop Joe Hart from kicking the ball out of his hands, the second a reckless lunge on James Milner.
Van Gaal had warned before the game of the importance of keeping 11 men on the pitch but Smalling - a 24-year-old full international - didn't listen.
“The first I didn’t see, I don’t know why the referee gave it but as a player you have to deal with that,” said Van Gaal in his post-match press conference. “You know you cannot do what he’s done with the second yellow card. That’s not very smart - that I can say.
“I say a lot of things to the players and in spite of that... it's not always that they follow what I have said. It's also emotion and sometimes you cannot control your emotion but it was not very smart.
“He was very humble. You can only accept it but nevertheless it was not so clever.”
Smalling should be more than humble. He should be begging his team-mates for forgiveness and facing a fine from the club for costing them so dearly.
From the moment Smalling left the pitch, United were in serious trouble. An injury to Marcos Rojo meant that the visitors played most of the second half with a patched-up, untried back four of Antonio Valencia, Michael Carrick, Paddy McNair and Luke Shaw. It made Smalling’s mistakes even more nonsensical and he will now be suspended for the visit of Crystal Palace to Old Trafford next week.
The former Fulham man could now find his chances of establishing himself at Old Trafford hanging by a thread. He has been at United for four years but his career has barely got off the ground. Thanks to injuries and poor performances he has little credit in the bank and Sunday's display could spell the end as Van Gaal looks towards strengthening his team in January and at the end of the season.
City went on to win the derby through Sergio Aguero’s second-half strike, and while the hosts had three strong penalty appeals waved away United were the better team in the final 20 minutes and perhaps should have equalised.
As it is, Van Gaal’s side have just 13 points from 10 matches and have made their worst start to a league season since 1986-87.
But they are still only four points off the top four and and could have been closer. They were in control for the final quarter of the game, with Wayne Rooney coming into his own, the midfield controlling the ball, while Angel Di Maria woke up and tested Joe Hart with a stinging right-footed strike.
If only they had been able to take on the champions - heading into the game on the back of consecutive defeats - 11 against 11.
“Of course as a coach you can be proud of the last 20 minutes because they showed unbelievable willpower and we could have scored at that moment,” Van Gaal added as he searched for positives.
The Dutchman appeared to have set his team up in the right way to take on City, just as he had in last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea.
But his players were unable to see the gameplan through - and that’s because Smalling let them down.