Manchester United’s Marouane Fellaini is likely to escape Football Association punishment for an apparent spitting incident in his side’s fourth consecutive Premier League derby defeat, which left them reflecting on their worst start to a season in 28 years.
The United manager, Louis van Gaal, defended the Belgian, who was at the centre of a similar controversy when Pablo Zabaleta lay on the floor during United’s 3-0 derby defeat at Old Trafford in March. “I have heard that it is a question on social media,” Van Gaal said. “But already the TV has shown that he is shouting and sometimes when you shout there’s a little bit of – what do you call? – saliva [that comes out] with it. I don’t think that he’s a spitting figure.”
It was a deeply unsavoury moment, with Fellani stooping angrily to place his head next to Aguero’s face, as he lay on the ground, and seemingly launching accusations of gamesmanship at the player, whom he had just fouled in the area with a kick to the back of the foot. The Football Association may examine the footage but it is unlikely to take action against Fellaini. There is no emphatic evidence of deliberate spitting and City manager Manuel Pellegrini’s downplaying of the incident may also be significant. “No, no, I don’t know about that. It’s something I don’t know about,” Pellegrini said. To the question of whether Aguero had mentioned the incident he replied: “Maybe.”
Van Gaal’s censure was reserved for his defender Chris Smalling, whose actions he described as “stupid and “not that smart” after the Englishman’s dismissal condemned United to defeat.
Smalling’s second yellow card, for a needless challenge on James Milner, came a mere eight minutes after the 24-year-old was booked for deliberately blocking a Joe Hart kick. Van Gaal was withering about Smalling’s foul on Milner, who was unlikely to do damage in the situation. “When you have a yellow card you have to deal with that, you know that, you cannot do what he has done with the second yellow card,” Van Gaal said. “That is not very smart. What can I say?” His side’s 13 points from 10 games is the lowest since the eight from 10 that earned Ron Atkinson the sack in the winter of 1986.
Van Gaal’s defensive problems were compounded when Marcos Rojo – who had a desperate afternoon – dislocated his shoulder during a wild challenge on Martin Demichelis and was ruled out for a month. United ended the game with Paddy McNair and Michael Carrick, whose only football this season has been a reserve team game at West Ham, in the centre of defence. Smalling will miss next Saturday’s home game against Crystal Palace, when United may also be without Phil Jones, Jonny Evans, Rafael da Silva and Rojo – all injured. Van Gaal is likely to play McNair and Carrick against Palace, with Tyler Blackett seemingly lower in the pecking order.