Chris Smalling has been out of action for Manchester United recently, last playing against Chelsea in a 4-0 humiliation for Jose Mourinho’s side on his first visit to his last home stadium. Smalling, who under Louis van Gaal rose to becoming one of United’s best defenders post-Sir Alex Ferguson, could now be facing more time on the sidelines because of injury which the Daily Mail reported was a broken toe, which would keep him out for another month, but those reports have since been denied with the Guardian reporting the denial. Jose Mourinho confirmed that Smalling and teammate Luke Shaw were sidelined and missed the victory over Swansea City in the Premier League last weekend, speaking out about players playing the game despite not being 100% fit, which does seem to be a rarity, not only now, but going back through the years too.
“Smalling doesn’t feel that he can play 100% with his pain, Luke Shaw told me this morning that he was not in the condition to play, so we had to build a defensive line. In every sport – and I know because I have friends and they play at the highest level in other sports – how many times you play and you are not 100%. To compete you have to go to the limits. It’s a cultural thing for some and that’s not my culture.”
The earlier reports, which were suggested to be corroborated by those close to Smalling, now seem to be something on confusion as to whether the England defender will return from injury in time to face Arsenal at Old Trafford in the early kick off on Saturday 19th November in the Premier League. United already have some concerns in the squad, especially with the defence with Antonio Valencia out with a break in his arm and Eric Bailly out with a serious knee injury. Luke Shaw also seems to either be injured or still affected by his leg break over a year ago, which seems to have affected his form considerably. Phil Jones, who has spent much of the last three years on the sidelines made his return to first team action last weekend in the 3-1 victory over Swansea City, playing his first competitive match since the 2nd January, against the same side, in a 2-1 victory at Old Trafford.
Jones has seen his form rise and dip since Sir Alex Ferguson left the club, with his latest return under Mourinho likely to be his final chance to cement his place in the squad. Jones was highly praised when he arrived at the Old Trafford club from Blackburn Rovers in the summer of 2011, lauded to be a great player for United by the legendary Scot, but has just not emerged as the player he was once tipped to be. This could be down to the poor management of David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, which could either change the course of the future for the now 24-year-old. Jones played well against Swansea, but they are a poor side this season, far from the side who punished United over the last three years. However, this could give Jones the confidence to find his feet at United, as could the fact there seems to be placed at stake in the first team, which could motivate him to give his best to his new manager.
United also have Daley Blind and Marcos Rojo, who have both had mixed years at the club with both finding it hard to cement a place in the team, despite the fact Blind partnered Smalling last season, doing well during the course of it. Smalling and Bailly are a big miss for United currently, especially with teams like Arsenal and Feyenoord on the horizon, which are must win matches for Mourinho’s side. United’s Academy is a place to look to strengthen the side with RoShaun Williams and Axel Tuanzebe, among others likely to offer Mourinho something for the future, as well as for the now. Tuanzebe is a player Mourinho has lauded himself, giving the 18-year-old some time in pre-season, suggesting that a few minutes was all that was needed to show the strengths needed on his rise to fame. Mourinho said:
“You can play 90 minutes or one minute. Sometimes one minute is enough. With Axel, ten minutes is enough! The potential is there, you see it immediately. You know him better than me because you know him for a few years but if anyone sees him for the first time, ten minutes is enough to see the potential.”
United have a few options available to them, but against Arsenal, it would be a gamble to bring in the likes of Tuanzebe and Williams, but that said, Marcus Rashford was a gamble too, look how that has worked out for the club, he’s even linked with Real Madrid in Spain at the current time, despite the club being hit with a transfer ban for their own greedy actions in the transfer market. Mourinho will know what is best for his team. Smalling could return against Arsenal for all we know. Mourinho knows what he is doing. Sir Alex Ferguson ran Manchester United very well, and in the time he has been gone, the club has seen leaks make it to the media, team news being send out to fans hours before being released and other things making the club look bad. Mourinho will be in control of things like Fergie was at some point, which should help United get back to where they once were, the top of the game.