At Wembley two weeks ago, Manchester United suffered one of their worst performances during the almost two years that Jose Mourinho has been their manager.
The 2-0 scoreline was flattering, with United getting played off the park, but despite the dominance Tottenham Hotspur showed, it was defensive errors from the away team that allowed the goals to be scored.
For the first, which hit the back of the net seconds after kick-off, United’s backline were half asleep.
Phil Jones lost out on the first header to Harry Kane, while Chris Smalling and Ashley Young were so slow to close down Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen. They were given all the time and space in the world inside United’s penalty area. The defending was totally amateur.
Still, United weren’t beaten at that point and looked keen to get themselves level, going on the attack, having been shocked in to action.
But they were undone by yet more comical defending, when Jones booted the ball in to the back of his own net. It was a simple clearance if he used his left foot, but he instead opted to use his right and David de Gea had no chance.
Last weekend, United fans were happier enough with a 2-0 win over Huddersfield, especially as all the teams around them dropped points, but they were brought back to reality on Saturday thanks to a defeat against Newcastle.
The Red Devils dominated possession and chances, but it was the home team that earned the three points, winning their first game at St James Park since October. If the defending had been bad against Spurs, it was next level against Rafa Benitez’s side.
Smalling leapt in to the air when Jonjo Shelvey looked as though he was going to put in a challenge, resulting in a yellow card for diving and a freekick.
When the ball came in to the box from this set piece, Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic were marking the same man, leaving Matt Ritchie to arrive in the box unchallenged to score the winning goal. Jones was spotted dashing across the area to try and get a block in but it was too late.
How often do central defenders get booked for diving in their own half? In terms of comical set ups for a goal, it doesn’t get much worse or better than this, depending on who you support.
This, of course, isn’t the first occasion where United fans have been baffled by Smalling’s stupidity.
Aged 28, what should be his peak, Smalling always looks to have a mistake in him. He’s so far removed from the cool, calm and collected Rio Ferdinand, the defender he was supposed to fill the boots of.
Smalling’s worst moment for Mourinho was probably during the 4-0 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. The defender was absolutely shocking, although reports later emerged claiming he was playing with a broken toe, saving him from the depth of criticism he deserved for such a poor display.
For Louis van Gaal, the manager who didn’t even know Smalling’s name, referring to him as ‘Mike’ instead, the defender had some embarrassing showings too.
In the Dutchman’s first game against Manchester City, the England centre half cost him the game at the Etihad. He was booked for denying Joe Hart taking a quick freekick, before taking James Milner out to earn a second yellow before half-time.
United went on to play for an hour with 10 men and lost the game 1-0. To lunge in on Milner when already in the referee’s book was incredibly …you guessed it… stupid.
In the biggest game of Van Gaal’s time in Manchester, the FA Cup final in 2016, Smalling did his best to ensure defeat for United. 15 minutes in to extra time, the defender was sent off for wrestling Yannick Bolasie to the ground, grabbing his ankle and pulling him back just in case Mark Clattenburg hadn’t seen enough to send him off.
Thankfully, Jesse Lingard scored the winner five minutes later.
* Skip to 4.16 for the incident.
United could consider themselves grateful to even be in the final though, after you know who slid in to kick the ball in to the back of his own net in the semi-final against Everton.
* Skip to 3.38 for the incident.
While his career has been littered with other costly mistakes an moments of ineptitude, none bigger than losing Vincent Kompany as he scored the header to beat United towards the close of the 2012 season, essentially costing Man United the title, he’s also guilty of remarkable stupidity off the field too.
Three years ago, Smalling attended a fancy-dress party as a suicide bomber, or “Jaeger bomber”, with a pretend bomb strapped to the front of him. You can’t even imagine the thought process that goes in to something like that.
I'd have these as my top three ridiculous Chris Smalling moments at United. Have I missed anything obvious? pic.twitter.com/Ymbksxh96R
— Scott Patterson (@R_o_M) February 12, 2018
Smalling has never fulfilled the potential he was supposed to have. Despite periods of good form, he’s never far away from a huge lapse in concentration, a mistimed tackle, own goal or other costly mistake. The way he pulls on opposition players’ shirts in the penalty area it’s quite remarkable he doesn’t concede more penalties either.
United are currently playing with a back five, including the goalkeeper, of players who were all at the club when Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.
Of the defenders, they can’t have too many more seasons left in them, but Smalling surely has to be the first to go.
United supporters are praying that Eric Bailly returns from injury in time for the Champions League games this season and there won’t be many who are disappointed to see the England defender leave the club in the summer.