Chris Smalling

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One area where Mourinho was right: Man Utd badly needs center backs

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Big Manchester United wins and losses, especially post-Alex Ferguson, have a tendency to get overstated at both ends of the spectrum, but there’s plenty to take away from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s recent struggles at the helm of the Red Devils.

[ MORE: Recap | Solskjaer reacts ]

For one thing: Jose Mourinho wasn’t right about much this Manchester United season, but he knew he needed better men in the back.

Everton’s beautiful opener in the first half of Sunday’s 4-0 pummeling of the Red Devils may tempt some to wash over the defending, but heading below the surface shows more problems.

The opener saw Richarlison score a terrific overhead kick after Dominic Calvert-Lewin flick a Lucas Digne throw-in to the back post. Beautiful, for sure, but Smalling never gets up to thwart Calvert-Lewin’s powerful jump.

Now that’s certainly just one example, but United’s slide is a feature of a few things.

Nineteen goals conceded in 17 PL matches is a clear upgrade from the 29 in 17 under Mourinho, and let’s not pretend United hasn’t been better with Solskjaer at the proverbial wheel.

Throw in a very average season from David De Gea — which in his case is far below standards — and it’s not a surprise that United is flailing away from the Top Four. The Alexis Sanchez move has been poor, Romelu Lukaku‘s form has dipped save back-to-back braces against a pair of unremarkable defenses, and Paul Pogba remains mercurial. He’s a monster of the midfield at his best, and a drifting object in the wind at his worst.

There’s a comparison to made with where Liverpool was under Brendan Rodgers somewhere, a legendary club not quite sure of how to fit its standard to its standing. Marcus Rashford needs room to grow, not constant comparison to Romelu Lukaku. There are a lot of extra pieces in the squad, the guys you like as a luxury for a great team but are either too old or too green to be reliable.

Of center backs to play in 10 or more Premier League matches this season, Phil Jones ranks 16th, Chris Smalling is 38th, and Victor Lindelof is 44th. Only 57 are ranked. Advanced stats aren’t foolproof, but they help (Jones and little-used Eric Bailly, for what it’s worth, were well-rated last season).

The club needs a big rebuild, to be sure. De Gea is a suitable goalkeeper for a team with top end ambitions, and we know that Lukaku and Pogba at their best can dominate (whether either is capable of doing it consistently under anyone is a debate).

But really, perhaps De Gea’s amazing 2017-18 and Mourinho’s defense-first system papered over something that’s been evident for some time. There’s neither a Aymeric Laporte or Toby Alderweireld at United, let alone a Virgil Van Dijk.

‘We nullified them:’ Smalling, Man Utd confident after 1-0 loss to Barca

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Barcelona scored a goal, then absorbed foul after foul while allowing Manchester United’s home crowd very little to enjoy in Wednesday’s first leg of a UEFA Champions League tie.

Manchester United midfielder Scott McTominay was happy to be down just a goal against Lionel Messi and company, but admitted frustration at his side not being able to find the back of the net in the 1-0 loss.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 0-1 Barca ]

“We have to do more in front of goal, score more goals. It’s a big second leg to go. It’s only half time. We are Manchester United and you can never write us off.”

As for the defense, outspoken United back Chris Smalling was bullish on his team’s evening.

“The whole team, we nullified them,” Smalling said. “I think there was only one other save for David De Gea. We knew we had to bring that intensity that they’re not used to.”

Not sure Smalling understands what nullified means, though United was very physical and both teams brought plenty of anger to the tackles, but the swagger is back at Manchester United.

Or at least the players’ willingness to express it in public.

Mourinho: Manchester United ‘scored four goals, drew 2-2’

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Jose Mourinho had the one-liner after Manchester United gifted a pair of goals to Arsenal, twice battling back to level the score in a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

“We scored four goals, and we drew 2-2,” he said.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 2-2 Arsenal ]

David De Gea mishandled a bouncing shot for Arsenal’s first goal and Marcos Rojo gave the ball away before conceding an own goal with a last ditch effort, but Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard scored equalizers for Mourinho’s men.

“As always we made mistakes, and we paid for those mistakes,” Mourinho said. “Many many times we make mistakes behind and we pay for that. Today was more of the same but we had great spirit. We were a team with people really ready to have a go and fight hard.”

Mourinho left Paul Pogba on the bench to start the game, and handed starts to several unusual players including Diogo Dalot, Eric Bailly, and Rojo.

He praised their efforts, in what may’ve been a small dig at Pogba (but perhaps we’re reading a bit into it).

“The feeling of our players going to the limit, being really tired, people that didn’t play all season some of them. Diogo it’s the first start, Rojo the first minute, Bailly after so, so long, Chris Smalling playing in conditions only he, myself, and the medical department know. Everybody giving everything. They were dangerous only when we lost the ball, and we lost the ball badly in dangerous areas.”

United is eight points back of the Top Four, and hosts Fulham on Saturday.

Mourinho, Smalling stew after Manchester United falters again

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Manchester United is simmering after the celebrated side failed to generate much of anything in a 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace at Old Trafford.

Veteran Chris Smalling sounded an alarm after the game, putting a timetable on the Red Devils’ bid to qualify for the UEFA Champions League via the league route.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 0-0 Crystal Palace ]

“We knew before this game all the home games we have,” Smalling said. “We knew we had to be in the top four by Christmas. We cannot have any more days like this.”

Manager Jose Mourinho agreed with Smalling’s assessment that the match was a total failure (And, yes, despite the clean sheet; Palace’s Patrick Van Aanholt and Andros Townsend should’ve each scored).

“We did not win one point, we lost two,” Mourinho said.

The Portuguese manager insists his men were well-prepared for what Palace was going to do as visitors. From the BBC:

“We knew where they close down and knew where the spaces were, we did not have enough aggression or intensity to kill. We gave the opponent time to have he ball and did not press enough. We gave them moments to breath, relax and for the time to go. We did not press enough.”

Man Utd wins; Watford no longer perfect

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  • Red Devils score in 35′, 38′
  • Gray pulls one back
  • Watford loses first of season
  • Matic sent off late

Romelu Lukaku and Manchester United handed Watford its first blemish of the season, beating the Hornets 2-1 at Vicarage Road on Saturday.

Chris Smalling scored a beautiful goal for United to join Lukaku on the score sheet. Nemanja Matic was shown a second yellow card in the third minute of stoppage time.

The Red Devils improve to 3W-2L and join both Arsenal and Tottenham on nine points.

Watford’s 12 points are good for fourth, two above Bournemouth.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live ]

It was very much United’s game from the opening kick, with Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku especially lively in the first five minutes.

Good movement from United allowed Paul Pogba to cut back and hit a left-footed shot from atop the 18, but Ben Foster stooped to collect the ball. At the other end, Will Hughes forced David De Gea into a similar save.

De Gea then made an outstanding save against the run of play when Marouane Fellaini gave the ball away inside the 18 and Troy Deeney laced an effort top corner.

Alexis Sanchez had the ball in the goal but was whistled for offside in the 24th. And he zipped past Christian Kabasele to cut a shot on goal that Foster palmed over the bar.

Lukaku gave United a deserved lead in the 35th minute, using his belly to turn a cross inside the goal.

Center back Smalling made it 2-0 when he chest trapped Fellaini’s header before swiveling to volley a striker’s goal past Foster. The Watford goalkeeper would stop Paul Pogba on the doorstep in stoppage time to limit the deficit to two heading into halftime.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Watford created a goal in the 65th minute with Gray granted plenty of space to hit a cutback cross from Abdoulaye Doucoure past De Gea.

It could’ve been 3-0 had Antonio Valencia sprung Romelu Lukaku on a 2v1, but the Ecuadorian’s later pass led Lukaku to touch the ball to Alexis Sanchez and the Chilean couldn’t manufacture a shot.

That’s when Matic saw his second yellow for breaking up a late rush, but De Gea made a flying save to deprive Kabasele of an equalizer. The ensuing corner kick led to nothing, and the final whistle blew in favor of the visitors.