Louis van Gaal spent Friday warning his players to retain their composure and avoid a sending off in the Manchester derby.
Forty-eight hours later, Chris Smalling’s disregard for the United manager’s instructions proved costly as van Gaal saw his side beaten 1-0 by Manuel Pellegrini’s City at the Etihad Stadium.
Smalling was sent off for two bookable offences — charging at goalkeeper Joe Hart and bringing down James Milner — and there was little understanding from van Gaal, especially with the two incidents coming seven minutes apart.
“As a player you have to control your aggression,” said van Gaal. “I didn’t see the first yellow but the second you know as a player you have a yellow, so you have to handle it differently.
“I said that to the players, in the derby you have to be careful. The second yellow card was stupid. He was very humble afterwards but he can only accept it. Nevertheless, in my opinion, it’s not so smart.”
Down to 10 men, United battled gamely but suffered a further setback when central defender Marcos Rojo suffered a suspected dislocated shoulder early in the second half.
With Phil Jones, Rafael and Johnny Evans injured and Smalling facing suspension, Rojo’s injury leaves van Gaal without a recognised centre-half and Michael Carrick and youngster Paddy McNair likely to fill those roles.
“We have a lot of injuries in defence,” said van Gaal. “But I have seen how Michael Carrick and Paddy McNair came in. I don’t think that’s our problem. I think our problem is in the first half we gave the ball away in possession too much unnecessarily when we could have held the ball easily. In spite of all the injuries, we are very close. We were very close with Chelsea last week and also in this match — but not close enough.
“We have to make steps still to improve.”
City’s winner from Sergio Aguero proved enough to win the three points, and record City’s fourth successive league derby win for the first time in 44 years, but the result would have been far more comfortable if Pellegrini’s side had succeeded in any one of three strong penalty appeals.
Pellegrini was adamant that a Rojo foul on Yaya Toure should also have resulted in a red card for the United defender. “The important thing is when you can win in spite of those things,” he said.
“The penalty against Yaya was not only a penalty but also a sending off because he was the last man. There were two others against Sergio but we are not talking about that.”
After the game, social media claimed that after one of the penalty appeals, Fellaini spat at Aguero as he lay on the ground although van Gaal was swift to leap to his player’s defence.
“I’ve heard that it’s a question on social media,” said the United manager. “But the (TV) feed has shown him shouting and sometimes when you shout there is a little bit of saliva with it.
“I don’t think he’s a spitting (type of) figure.”
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