Romelu Lukaku is facing a three-match ban that would rule him out of the Manchester derby after he was caught on camera kicking Brighton defender Gaetan Bong in the groin.
Lukaku lashed out at Bong with his right boot, then connected with the Cameroon international with his left as they tangled at a corner moments before Manchester United’s goal at Old Trafford.
The 66th-minute incident went unnoticed as Ashley Young’s shot took a big deflection off Lewis Dunk and looped into the net, but it was captured on video and is set to land Lukaku in trouble on Monday.
The FA are aware of the incident and will study referee Neil Swarbrick’s report before viewing more footage.
United’s £75million striker faces a charge of violent conduct that carries an automatic three-match ban, potentially keeping him out of Tuesday’s game at Watford, Saturday’s trip to Arsenal and the Manchester derby at Old Trafford on December 10.
United desperately need to beat City to prevent them running away with the Premier League title, and losing their 12-goal top scorer would be a serious setback despite Lukaku’s recent loss of form.
Last month, Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren accused Lukaku of kicking him in the face during the goalless draw at Anfield. The FA took no action but are unlikely to be so lenient this time.
Although Jose Mourinho has talked about resting the Belgium international, who has played every minute of United’s Premier League and Champions League games this season, this is not the break he had in mind.
If Lukaku, who has scored just once in his past 10 games after claiming 11 goals in his first 10, is suspended, it will put pressure on the United boss to start Zlatan Ibrahimovic after three appearances off the bench following knee surgery.
Mourinho praised Lukaku’s commitment after he forced the corner that led to United’s winner by pursuing Brighton defender Solly March to the byline.
‘The way Romelu wins the corner for the goal, the way Romelu ends the game making tackles in the left-back position, that is the mentality I want,’ said the United boss.
‘Unfortunately, not every player is the same. So Romelu, for me, fantastic. He didn’t score. I don’t care.’
Brighton manager Chris Hughton was unhappy that assistant referee Marc Perry had pointed for the corner that led to the goal, even though replays appeared to show the ball taking the slightest touch off March on its way out of play.
Goalkeeper Matt Ryan felt that Perry was not sure of his decision.
‘The reaction from the linesman himself, he was a little bit nervous, I felt,’ said Ryan. ‘He sort of gave a home field decision.