Chris Smalling

Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images

Man Utd: Smalling, Darmian seal Serie A moves

Leave a comment

Manchester United is waving goodbye to a pair of defenders, and only may eventually come back to Old Trafford.

Chris Smalling is off to AS Roma on loan, while Matteo Darmian will join Parma for an underwhelming $1.7 million (according to Sky Sports).

[ MORE: UEL group stage draw ]

Those Man Utd salaries have made from less than ideal transfer situations for the Red Devils. While Romelu Lukaku did fetch $90 million from Inter Milan, Alexis Sanchez joined the same Serie A side for an alarmingly low loan fee (reportedly).

Here’s Solskjaer on Smalling’s move to a fellow Europa League side. From ManUtd.com:

“At the moment we’ve got six center backs and it’s just something that popped up in the last couple of days. Chris fancied the chance to go over there; it’s a new experience, new adventure. He’ll come back better for it because it’s a big club, it’s a good league. There aren’t too many English players who have been playing in Italy so I think he’ll enjoy it.”

Whether United is able to bring in some free agent or budget savvy moves like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it’s pretty clear that chairman Ed Woodward (and maybe Solskjaer) believes the club is not ready for a Top Four challenge but has the strength to compete for continued UEL berths via blooding plenty of young depth.

Chris Smalling to join Roma on loan

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Chris Smalling is heading out on loan to Roma.

Despite signing a new contract earlier this year, the Manchester United and England center back has fallen out of favor at Old Trafford under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Smalling, 29, will reportedly join Roma on a season-long loan deal for a loan fee of around $3.3 million. Roma would also have the option to buy Smalling permanently.

With Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof ahead of him in the pecking order, plus Axel Tuanzebe, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo all around as center back options for Solskjaer, this is a smart move for Smalling.

Roma sold Kostas Manolas to Napoli over the summer and are rebuilding after failing to qualify for the UEFA Champions League this season. They drew 3-3 at home to Genoa in their opening Serie A game of the season and need a little help defensively.

Smalling is a towering figure who will block and clear until his heart is content. He has been at United for nine years, winning two PL titles, an FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League trophy.

This loan move works out well for everyone, as United have now sold Romelu Lukaku to Inter Milan, Alexis Sanchez is also heading to Inter on loan and Smalling is now heading to Roma.

The path from Manchester to Italy is becoming a well trodden one.

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

Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
1 Comment

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

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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’

Leave a comment

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.