Monday 23 October 2017

Man United dispute claims of Chris Smalling injury as controversy takes another twist

Is Chris Smalling injured or not?
Is Chris Smalling injured or not?

James Ducker

Chris Smalling’s fitness was at the centre of more mystery and intrigue on Friday amid conflicting claims about an injury to the Manchester United defender.

Jose Mourinho, the United manager, had appeared to question Smalling’s bravery after the 3-1 win at Swansea City on Sunday when he claimed the England international “doesn’t feel that he can play 100 per cent without pain”.

Mourinho’s controversial remarks, during which he also cast aspersions on the willingness of Luke Shaw, Smalling’s fellow United and England defender, to play through the pain, set him on another collision course with United’s dressing room and were publicly derided this week by PFA chief executive, Gordon Taylor, and former United captain, Gary Neville.

Smalling has missed United’s past four matches and reports on Friday morning suggested he may not play again until Christmas after further tests revealed he had broken his toe in two places.

Sources close to Smalling have supported those claims but United responded on Friday by dismissing the story as inaccurate.

Yet it is understood Smalling, who required pain killing injections to feature in the 4-0 defeat at Chelsea on October 23 - his last appearance for the club - does have a broken toe.

The dispute seems to centre around the exact severity of the injury as well as the precise timing of it and the likely lay-off. There have been unsubstantiated claims that Smalling may have aggravated the injury in training this week.

No one at United – who face Arsenal at Old Trafford in the Premier League a week on Saturday - has been able to confirm when Smalling is expected to return to action. Midfielder Marouane Fellaini is also a doubt for that match after suffering a calf problem in the Swansea match.

Against Chelsea, Mourinho had opted include Marcos Rojo over Shaw among his substitutes because he felt the Argentina defender could offer cover for Smalling at centre-half if required.

In the event, Daley Blind moved to centre-back and Rojo played at left back when another defender, Eric Bailly, was substituted early in the second half with knee ligament damage.

Smalling’s injury coupled with Bailly’s absence have robbed Mourinho of his first choice centre-half pairing and the manager could enter the transfer market in January for another central defender.

United’s win at Swansea was only their second victory in eight Premier League games ahead of a tough run of fixtures.

Mourinho has not been afraid to publicly criticise his players this season. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jesse Lingard were rebuked for their performances in the 2-1 derby defeat at home to Manchester City in September, when the manager appeared to accuse them of being overwhelmed by the occasion.

Shaw was criticised for his role in one of Watford’s goals during United’s 3-1 defeat at Vicarage Road, even though it later emerged that the left back was carrying an injury at the time.

Mourinho’s latest comments about Shaw and Smalling represent his latest run in with a squad whose mental strength he has openly questioned.

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