As seems to be happening with maddening regularity, discussions over another thrilling weekend of Premier League football will be dominated by some seriously misjudged refereeing decisions.
It started on Saturday when Arsenal were awarded the single goal they required to beat a dogged QPR late in the game – Mikel Arteta clearly offside before scoring. Then on Sunday the two biggest matches were both tainted by bad calls that could prove costly to the teams on the receiving end.
Liverpool, in stoppage time, appeared to score a perfectly legitimate winning goal in the Merseyside derby, only for it to be chalked off for offside and instead they had to settle for a point.
Yet the best was still to come; a pulsating clash between league leaders Chelsea and third-placed Manchester United had provided plenty of healthy drama already with Chelsea coming back from two down to draw level in the second half. But it could have done without the two Chelsea sendings off which completely killed the game, and then another bad offside call to hand United a precious win.
While the idea of bringing goal-line technology into the game in the very near future is a start, it’s clear that far more common concerns than whether or not the ball has crossed the line are offside and penalty decisions – both are incorrectly made routinely at all levels of football.
With human error inevitable, video replays are surely the only way of cutting out the huge number of bad decisions that can prove so costly, and football must one day follow other sports in introducing them.
For those major decisions to go against Chelsea was especially galling as they’d done so well to get back into the match against United, and they looked the side more likely to go on and win, which would’ve put them seven points ahead of Sir Alex Ferguson’s men.
They started the game slowly and were severely punished by a clinical United after only four minutes when Wayne Rooney pulled the ball back for Robin van Persie, whose shot cannoned off the post and then in off the unfortunate David Luiz. Only eight minutes later the advantage was doubled as Antonio Valencia found himself in acres of space on the right and crossed for an unmarked Van Persie to side foot powerfully beyond Petr Cech.
Chelsea suddenly came to life with 15 minutes of the first half remaining and United goalkeeper David de Gea had to produce brilliant saves to deny headers by Gary Cahill and Fernando Torres. A minute before the break Juan Mata pulled a goal back with a sublime free kick and was then denied a second only moments later.
The Blues started the second half where they’d left off and deservedly drew level when Ramires headed in a cross from Brazilian compatriot Oscar less than ten minutes in. United were struggling to handle the movement of Oscar, Mata and Eden Hazard and Chelsea were certainly in the ascendancy.
The game swung in United’s favour when Branislav Ivanovic was adjudged to have brought down Ashley Young just after the hour mark and was sent off for denying a goalscoring opportunity. Only moments later Fernando Torres was shown a second yellow card for what referee Mark Clattenburg perceived as a dive when going past Jonny Evans.
Replays showed Evans had actually caught the Spaniard and had possibly made more contact than Ivanovic had on Young. Blunted by their two-man deficit Chelsea were forced to abandon their attacking impulses and hold on for a draw. United pushed for a winner and achieved it when Javier Hernandez tapped in another Valencia cross in the 75th minute.
To add insult to injury for Di Matteo and his staff, replays showed Hernandez was offside before he scored.
The controversy continued after the game with Chelsea making an official complaint against Clattenburg alleging the referee used ”inappropriate language” against two of their players, including racial language against one.
United’s controversial win puts them only a point behind Chelsea and ahead of Manchester City on goal difference. City needed a long range Carlos Tevez strike to put Swansea to the sword on Saturday evening.
Tottenham moved up to fourth in the table by beating Southampton at St Mary’s Stadium. Gareth Bale headed the opener against his old club and Clint Dempsey scrambled the second, before Jay Rodriguez pulled one back.
In Sunday’s other big match, Everton came from two goals behind to draw with fierce rivals Liverpool. A Leighton Baines own goal, quickly followed by a Luis Suarez header put the Reds in the driving seat, but Leon Osman almost immediately halved the deficit and Gary Naismith smashed in the leveller before the first half was even done.
A fiery second half brought no further goals, but it should have done when in injury time Suarez prodded in a winner from a set piece, only to be incorrectly given offside. Everton sit in fifth position, while Liverpool are down in 12th.
Arsenal conversely benefited from a bad offside call when Mikel Arteta bundled home from a yard out to see off ten-man QPR and put them sixth in the table.
Elsewhere, the spoils were shared between Reading and Fulham in a six-goal cracker at the Madejski Stadium; the Royals, like QPR, are still to win a match this season. Wigan recorded a much needed 2-1 win over West Ham, Norwich came from behind to draw at Aston Villa, Newcastle edged out West Brom 2-1 at St James’ Park, and it was stalemate between Stoke and Sunderland at the Britannia Stadium.
Tags: Barclays Premier League, Chelsea, Everton, Fernando Torres, Javier Hernandez, Liverpool, Luis Suarez, Manchester United, Mark Clattenburg, Robin Van Persie