When you spent most of your playing days competing for headers, you tend to recognize little things that suggest one player wanted to get a head on the ball considerably more than the other.
Vincent Kompany wanted to win that header he scored on today to give Man City a 1-0 win and potentially their first English Premier League title. Chris Smalling, through his decision to pull off of Kompany to the near post unnecessarily early, clearly did not. Watch the video after the jump:
The important part is from 36 second to 38 seconds. Two seconds. That’s all it takes to win and lose a header, a game and perhaps a league title.
Kompany is a beast. I think he’s made a case this season for the title of best centre back in the league. He’s the sort of guy no one looks forward to jumping against because he is big, strong and you know he is going to compete for the ball in the air and not give it a half hearted lunge that speaks more of self preservation than glory. And let’s be honest, contesting headers off corners is not for the feint of heart at this level. Once you’ve been smacked by a few elbows or had some head to head contact, more than a few start pulling the sort of marking job that Smalling did on Kompany today.
There is no logical reason to pull off of Kompany as early as Smalling did. He pulls off so far that he ends up going around another pairing of United and City players (Rio and Lescott?) contesting the corner and at one point is a good three steps from the City centre back. It’s far too early for him to have seen the ball played to the near post space os there’s no valid reason for him to come into that space. All he’s doing is allowing Kompany to get clear and not have to jump with a defender mauling him for the ball. A mauling that Smalling seemingly is not interested in giving him.
So as the ball comes over it is left for Smalling to jump backwards to try to reach it while Kompany can jump up and into the ball. When their feet leave the ground there is still two yards separating them. You cannot give Vincent Kompany that much room that close in on a corner kick. He has to be jostled and to jostle you have to be inches not yards away. It’s no contest and as the commentator on the video says, “Smalling knows he’s been caught out. Scholes knows. Rooney know.” To experienced players this reeks of either amateur hour defending or someone who has decided they’re just not up for competing for cross balls with someone like Kompany, so they over-commit to the near post to make it look like they’re trying to get an early jump to a ball played to that space. But when the jump precedes any indication of the ball actually being delivered there, it becomes alarmingly obvious that the real intent was to bugger off on the responsibility to jump with the player on the other team who is the biggest threat on corners because you didn’t fancy your odds or you didn’t fancy a nasty collision.
Games can turn on the smallest of incidents. City were the better team today but chances for both teams were few and far between so this ended up being the difference. Smalling will no doubt hear about this from Sir Alex and from some teammates.