Decisions. Referees making decisions can often have a large impact on the outcome of a match. All too often decisions are made that ultimately turn into a game changer, whether they are correct or not.
After a disappointing showing from most of the English clubs in the Champion’s League midweek, attentions turned to Sunday afternoon’s clash between Chelsea and Manchester United, with some suggesting it had implications for the title race later down the line as well as statements that it was a “must win” game for the visitors. Sir Alex Ferguson opted for a side using more width than the one that started against Braga. David De Gea continued in goal, with Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans in front of him. Rafael and Evra took place on the right and left. In midfield, Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick took starting places, with Ashley Young returning from injury on the left wing and Antonio Valencia on the right. Up front, Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney headed the attack.
The game kicked off at Stamford Bridge with pace, and United looked positive in the opening exchanges, taking the lead early on with some good fortune, after a Van Persie shot first time hit the post, rebounding off David Luiz and bouncing back into the net. 0-1, and a different sight for United fans as their side took an early lead. It would take less than 10 minutes for United to build on their advantage, with Valencia picking out Van Persie in a similar position to the first with a low cross, and the Dutchman right footed effort beat Cech to make it 0-2.
From there, United looked fairly comfortable, linking up and passing well without creating the chances that gave them such an early lead. Chelsea themselves were looking dangerous going forward, finding their way into the game as the first half progressed, forcing De Gea into a string of saves, notably one a few minutes before half time, palming out a header at the near post, showcasing his world class shot-stopping ability. However, as the pressure mounted, Chelsea made their threat pay, after a tackle from Rooney gave them a free kick, with Mata wrong footing De Gea to fire in at the far post and bring the game back to 1-2 just before half time.
The second half began with Chelsea trying to capitalise on the momentum gained in the first, and within 10 minutes they had brought the game level, as Mata kept the ball from going out of play, the ball was played across, Hazard playing in a cross from the left for Ramires to head home. 2-2 and a completely open game. Chelsea continued to pressurise, with Hazard forcing a good save from De Gea at the near post. United tried to gain some control, but Chelsea looked the more threatening of the sides.
However, one hour played, and dramatic scenes, as Ashley Young beat the the defenders, and ended up being tripped by Ivanovic as the last man, leaving the referee no option but to send him off. 67 minutes in, and a far more controversial moment, as Jonny Evans was outmatched by Torres, playing the ball by him, with Evans going in on him right in front of the referee, with Mark Clattenburg judging Torres to have gone down too easily, giving the Spaniard a second yellow card and sending him off.
Up against 9 men, United began to see more control, although the hosts were by no means down and out. However, after 75 minutes, the advantage was made to pay off, as Van Persie’s shot hit the post, with the ball coming to Rafael who fired in and substitute Hernandez getting on the end of it to fire home and put his side 2-3 up, with the linesman unable to spot him coming from an offside position in the pack. Despite moments of threat from Chelsea, United were able to see the game out 2-3 in a dramatic afternoon of football, where refereeing decisions overshadowed and ultimately shaped the game.
With that, here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) Referees shaping the game
Some will say the beauty in football, is the way in which certain moments can be debated and argued on as well as the way in which they can provide pivotal moments that add to the drama of a match. However, when it happens to the fans of the side affected, they understandably take a more aggressive standpoint, bemoaning the referee’s officiating and claiming bias or bad luck. There are others who call for more replay evidence to be used. But that is another argument for another day, in a weekend in which the standard of officiating once again finds itself in the spotlight. There were a few notable decisions during the weekend, particularly when it came to offside calls, with Arteta finding fortune with the linesman in his winner for Arsenal, and Suarez bemoaning the officials after being denied a clear winner in Liverpool’s tie with Everton.
At Stamford Bridge, there were a large number of controversial decisions. David Luiz could have conceded a penalty for handball just before Chelsea equalised. Ivanovic saw red for a professional foul, the right call to most. But the biggest calls of the evening came when Jonny Evans tackled Torres. Simply put, Evans missed the ball and made some contact with Torres, but the referee, with a perfect view, felt Torres actually went down far too easily and could have stayed up, and so gave a second yellow to the striker instead of a foul. To most, this was the wrong decision, and although some will argue about a dangerous tackle Torres made earlier, it should be stated that in this case, the foul should have been given, regardless of how easily one is considered to go down, with contact generally comes a fou.
The second, is with Hernandez’s winning goal and the failure to spot him coming from an offside position. In truth, it may well have been difficult given the scramble near the goal line and the pace of the game for it to be spotted, and was not as obvious a situation as some other wrong calls over the course of the weekend, but was the wrong one nonetheless. One has to acknowledge that these two moments changed the game significantly, particularly with Chelsea being reduced to 9 men, given their control of the second half up to that point.
It also draws arguments as to what exactly a referee is supposed to clamp down on when it comes to diving, is a player to be punished for going down easily on contact, or simply for diving when there has been none at all? Another point, less significantly, was late in the game when Valencia was booked for a dive despite contact being made, believing he was blocked off and wanting the foul. Regardless of the actual standard of football, it would appear referee’s peformances have once again taken the spotlight and will be under scrutiny, especially after allegations made against Clattenburg by Chelsea after the match, citing “inappropriate language” in lodging a complaint.
2) Losing a 2 goal lead and panic at the back
Were it not for David De Gea, Chelsea could have found themselves back on level terms a lot sooner than they did, with the young Spaniard making a string of saves to deny the home side’s advances. Despite United starting brightly and taking a quick lead, Chelsea found their way back into the game, with some good play and threatening attacks themselves, and with the visiting side struggling to deal with what came their way. The start of the second half in particular showed the issues United’s defence appear to be having, looking panicked at times without the assured feeling it once had. The second goal should have been better dealt with, with Jonny Evans beaten rather easily by Mata and the rest of the back line failing to deal with the resulting cross. Failure to protect a lead and the fact United were threatened despite a 2 man advantage may well be of concern.
3) Scholes and Giggs better off the bench?
In a game with the potential to be fast paced as it turned out against Chelsea, one must wonder whether United were better off leaving out veterans Scholes and Giggs. With those two in the side, the risk of being overrun would have been run and it may be fair to say United saw some benefits in avoiding that on Sunday. Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick made for a decent pair, and the pace on the wings helped United make a great start and put their threat down the flanks as they have done in the past. That said, later in the game as Chelsea built momentum, they began to control proceedings and posed a strong threat against United’s back line.
4) Hernandez – Super Sub
After an impressive showing midweek where he grabbed a brace to give his side victory in the Champion’s League, many wondered whether his heroics would earn him a start against Chelsea, and with some justification. However, with United adopting a two striker formation, relying on width through Valencia and Young, there was no room for the Mexican to take place. However, as the game wore on and Chelsea reduced to ten men, Sir Alex signalled his intention to go for the win by withdrawing Cleverley and putting on Chicharito. Indeed, his decision was justified, with some good fortune in evading being caught offside, he got on the end of Rafael’s ball in, adjusting well to play the ball into the goal and give his side the winner. With the apparent resurgence of the young striker, one cannot rule him out of having more impact as the season progresses, as his confidence continues to rise.
5) Must win games already?
The build up to this match was provided by some considering the idea that it could be of importance in the title race, given the way the table is shaping up already, with Chelsea, Manchester City and United were tight at the top. Going into the game, Chelsea had a 4 point lead over United, and 1 over City after their win the day before. Had United lost, a 7 point gap will have been achieved already and given the standard to which Chelsea have played at times so far this season, it would have been a big deficit to be facing this early in the season. Losing ground at this stage will not have been beneficial despite the fact that some may consider it still “early” at this point. With Arsenal due up next week, it is important United maintain their attacking strength, and fans will be hoping there may be some progress in solving the defensive issues that have surfaced. With defenders due back from injury in Smalling and perhaps Jones, the back line may well find itself revitalised. One might say that every game is a must win game at Old Trafford.