The air was thick, the mood tense, as the Manchester derby between United and City was set to begin. United again was hampered by injuries throughout the lineup, particularly on defense. Rafael picked up an injury in training, just a few days before the match and required rest for recovery. In his place, Van Gaal used utility man, Antonio Valencia at right back. The remainder of the lineup resembled last week's crew that earned a point against Chelsea. United played their newly adopted 4-5-1 formation, hoping to shut City down through the middle of the field.
United dominated the possession through the first 20 minutes of the match, but were unable to produce scoring chances, which rendered their possession advantage useless. City, on the other hand, was incisive in their possession, producing dangerous chances for Sergio Agüero and Jesus Navas that required the exceptional goaltending of David De Gea.
Daley Blind was forced to make a desperate challenge to prevent Ivorian Ya Ya Touré a scoring chance that earned him a yellow card booking. Chris Smalling earned himself a yellow card in the most foolish of ways; he attempted to block Joe Hart's punt after a save. Not only is that type of behavior illegal, it is completely idiotic for Smalling, a center back, to be the furthest forward United player on any Manchester City possession. The fact that he didn't turn and run to get back into position potentially reveals that Smalling's focus was not completely there. Eight minutes later, the question of his lack of focus is clearly answered. Smalling, already on a yellow card, goes to ground brashly, harshly, and most importantly, without any chance of winning the ball on a James Milner dribble. In the resulting slide tackle, Smalling catches all of James Milner's feet and none of the ball. Michael Oliver's decision could not have been easier; a second yellow card for Smalling, followed by a red card. Within the first half, with both teams yet to score, United were down to ten men, a cautionary tale foretold by Van Gaal to his players as a scenario to be avoided.
With the advantage in manpower, City's attack was oppressive, as if blood were in the water, but more accurately as if points were easily attainable. Van Gaal replaced Adnan Januzaj with midfielder Michael Carrick, positioned at centerback, doubly revealing how desperate our injury situation remains and also the need for veteran leaders in the defense. Staunch defense from the remaining United players stymied the City attack until the end of the half, when Van Gaal would hopefully draw up some Dutch magic to keep the result at 0-0.
Ten minutes into the second half, there was another devastating injury to the United side. Marcos Rojo left an aerial challenge the worst for wear, grimacing in horrifying agony, clutching his shoulder. Before he would leave the field via stretcher, he would need some combination of oxygen and medicine delivered via mask to relax the pain away. Van Gaal, faced with another impromptu substitution, replaced Rojo with youngster, Patrick McNair. United defended desperately, but stoically until the 62nd minute, when Agüero notched yet another goal on his league-leading 2014 campaign. United were down a goal and a man; a comeback seemed out of hand, but not out of reach. Many City supporters' countenances mirrored that.
Manchester United set about the arduous task of getting a goal a man down admirably, and also with some success. Ángel Di María played a crucial role in their endeavor to even the score. His free kicks were precise and dangerous, one finding the head of a wide open Marouane Fellaini, who headed the ball wide - United's best opportunity to equalize. United were ultimately unable to even the score, but also did not concede a second goal, mostly through their defensive effort, but also because of City's change in tactics to a more defensive approach to guarantee their victory.
United's loss leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, because of the Smalling red card, thoroughly deserved, and everything but necessary on Smalling's part. Smalling truly tried Van Gaal's patience with both fouls that earned each card. United still played quite well down a man, which adds a bit of speculation to this derby, but also a considerable amount of hope for the next meeting of these two teams farther into the season.
Looking at the league table, United place 10th, still with only 13 points captured. At this point in the season, wins are a desperate need and they must be sure to capture victory in their next match at home against Crystal Palace. United desperately need the three points from this match, two weeks ahead of a clash with 4th placed Arsenal. Both matches are sure to be difficult as the injury toll rises. With Marcos Rojo's injury, Manchester United's injury toll rose to seven, after the weekend's match. Rafael remains doubtful with a knock that he sustained in training before the Manchester derby currently with no return date set. Phil Jones is also doubtful with a shin injury. Jonny Evans is questionable, out with an ankle injury, but may be able to return just in time for the Crystal Palace match or soon after. Rojo sustained a dislocated shoulder and remains unavailable to play with no return time specified. Radamel Falcao continues to recover from a calf injury also with no return date provisioned. Making matters tense for the backline, Chris Smalling is suspended 1 match until November 22nd for his red card, missing the next match against Crystal Palace but returning just in time for the match against Arsenal. Time will tell whether he will play against Arsenal or if his antics and foolish decisions against Manchester City will find him a seat on the sideline. United will hopefully follow manager Louis Van Gaal's chiding and avoid bookings, so they can play the match fully sided with 11 men. The United and Crystal Palace match will air Saturday, November 4th at 10:00 AM on NBCSN.