Jose Mourinhoaccused Sergio Aguero of getting Marouane Fellaini sent off as the Manchester derby ended in acrimony at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday night.
Fellaini was given a red card by referee Martin Atkinson for head-butting Aguero only 19 seconds after he had been booked for a foul on the Manchester City striker.
Fellaini had fouled Aguero for a second time moments before the flashpoint and Atkinson appeared ready to show the Manchester United midfielder a second yellow card only for the Belgian to react violently to his opponent’s provocation and prompt the referee to brandish a red card.
But Mourinho – whose team held on for a goalless draw - pointed a finger of blame at Aguero by claiming the Argentinian had made the most of the incident in the 84th minute.
“If Sergio doesn’t go to the floor, for sure, it’s not a red card,” the United manager said. “I saw Aguero in the tunnel but no broken nose, no broken head, his face is nice as always, so I’m not so sure.
“I didn’t watch but probably I can guess it is a bit of a red card and a bit of a very experienced, smart Argentinian player.
“Marouane says that it’s a red card because it’s Marouane. He is frustrated. He says that with another player it would probably not be a red card. He says that Sergio Aguero was intelligent in the way he reacted. Martin Atkinson told me that in his opinion it’s a red card.
“We played 15 minutes with 10 and boys were absolutely amazing in the way they fought for the points.”
United will now be without Fellaini for Sunday’s Premier League game at home to Swansea City as well as the trips to Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur in another serious blow to Mourinho.
The Portuguese was already without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling to injury and he also lost substitute Timothy Fosu-Mensah to a suspected shoulder injury on the night that he described as “significant”.
Pep Guardiola was reluctant to be drawn on Fellaini’s sending off but likened it to Nolito’s red card for headbutting Adam Smith in City’s 4-0 win against Bournemouth in September.
“When Nolito was sent off against Bournemouth and banned for three games – in that situation you don’t talk to me, you have to speak with Mike Riley and the referees,” the City manager said. “Speak with the referees. I don't want to talk about the decisions of the referees. The referees take a decision so speak with them.
“I didn’t see it on TV, I was far away. I don’t like to see guys sent off and would prefer to see Fellaini stay on the pitch, but I’m not going to analyse it. I’m not here to judge what my opponents decide to do. It didn't change the game.”
Gary Neville, the former United defender, claimed Fellaini had been lulled into reacting by Aguero. Speaking on Sky Sports, Neville said: “Aguero’s played him there like a fool. What is he doing? He's played him like a fool.”
Mourinho claimed City, who remain a point ahead of United, will finish in the top four owing to a more favourable run-in and that his team were in a battle with Liverpool and Arsenal for the final Champions League spot.
“I think Man City is going to finish top four, the matches they have to play I see them doing that,” Mourinho said. “I think it’s between us, Arsenal and Liverpool [for the other spot]. We are going to try but reality is that we have a Europa League semi-final [against Celta Vigo] to play, we have lost players which is a problem but we are going to fight.”
Guardiola hailed the return from injury of Brazil striker Gabriel Jesus, who looked lively as a late substitute and found the net only to be correctly ruled offside.
“We are so happy (to have him back) because he has a special talent,” Guardiola said. “It was a pity the movement [for the offside goal] was in front of the central defender but I always think what would have happened if Gabriel Jesus had been with us all the season. When he arrived, his impact was amazing in the team. I felt what happened with him and Sergio, I'm pretty sure these kind of chances we had would have been a little bit different. But it is what it is.”