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Could Chelsea really face points deduction penalty for fracas with Manchester City?


Nice scary headlines this morning in the Mirror and the like, about Chelsea facing POINTS DEDUCTION (emphasis theirs) following "huge" Manchester City bust-up.  Sure, huge.  Let's go with huge.  It's all speculation of course at this point, despite the Mirror calling it a "very real danger".

That doesn't necessarily mean it's baseless.

In fact, it appears to be rooted quite clearly in The FA's judgements over the fracas between Spurs and Chelsea last May, which many have since taken to calling the Battle of the Bridge.  The FA fined both teams record amounts, with Chelsea's much larger fine a result of the club regularly breaking The FA's rule about controlling player behaviour (Rule E20).  It's a rather vague and silly rule, but it's meant to deter scenes like the ones at the end of the City game or the Spurs game.  In the last two years alone, since February 2015, Chelsea had been charged with and admitted to breaking this rule four times.  The Spurs match was the fifth count.  And now a sixth.  All in a period of two calendar years.  Repeat offenders tend to get punished harshly.

February 2015 vs. Everton  (£30,000 fine) — Fracas started by Barry red card tackle on Willian; famous for Ivanović vs. McCarthy
September 2015 vs. Arsenal (£40,000 fine) — The Costa vs. Gabriel (and Koscielny) incidents
October 2015 vs. West Ham (£50,000 fine) — Sparked by Matić red; Mourinho & Silvino also sent off, etc
January 2016 vs. West Brom (£65,000 fine) — Sparked by Yacob's third yellow card-worthy challenge and second non-sending off
May 2016 vs. Spurs — Battle of the Bridge

As it turns out, The FA were already considering a points deduction after the Spurs game, but eventually decided to stick with issuing a record fine of £375,000 instead.

4.10: Ultimately, though, we decided not to impose a points' deduction on Chelsea for these reasons:
(i) It is reasonable to infer from the number of cautions that Chelsea received (three), compared with Tottenham (nine), that the latter was guilty of a substantially greater level of ill-discipline - foul-play and otherwise - during the match. The charges focus attention on the relatively brief periods when the confrontations took place, but what took place during the other 88 minutes, or so, of the match should be taken into account in order to place the confrontations in context;
(ii) Chelsea was not charged with violent or discriminatory conduct;
(iii) Apart from the half-time interval, neither Club had any real opportunity to warn its players about their responsibilities;
(iv) Despite being a repeat offender under Rule E20, a very substantially increased financial penalty has yet to be imposed on Chelsea, or a final warning that such transgressions simply cannot continue if a future Regulatory Commission is not to resort to other more draconian penalties. (emphasis added)

-source: Written Reasons: Chelsea vs. Spurs, May 10, 2016 hearing

As per (iv), The FA then issued Chelsea with this "very substantially increased" fine —  more than double the cumulative fines from the previous four breaches of Rule E20 combined — which was then reduced to £290,000 on appeal.  The written reasons for the appeal decision referenced paragraph 4.10 from the original judgement and also stated that the hefty fine was not intended as a precedent but rather a one-time warning for the unique nature of the Battle of the Bridge (with technically three separate breaches of the rule occurring during the match).

83: [...] The purpose, obviously, is to sanction Chelsea and to do so by reference to its ‘offending'. No two cases are alike and none of the fines are intended to be precedents.

On a more worrying note however, the Appeals Board also threw in this conclusion at the very end.

99: [...] The Board is satisfied the greater fine on Chelsea fairly reflects its role in the incident and its lamentable recent record for failing properly to control its players. The time cannot be too far distant when a Commission concludes the only proper sanction is a points deduction. (emphasis added)

-source: Written Reasons of Appeals Board: Chelsea vs. Spurs; July 4, 2016

Both the original and the appealed decisions entertained the idea of a points deduction.  Now, just a third of the way into the new season, Chelsea have once again been charged with breaking Rule E20.  Unfortunately, it does not matter who started it, as it might on the grade school playground.  Even if such things can often be traced back to refereeing incompetence, what does matter is that the players were out of control, or at least "out of control" insofar as the rule about controlling players is concerned were out of control.

Having said that, The FA opted against a points deduction last time precisely because Spurs were "guilty of a substantially greater level of ill-discipline — foul-play or otherwise", which should apply to Manchester City as well considering the roles Aguero and Fernandinho played in inciting the fracas.  The FA actually took context into account.  They did fine Chelsea a very substantial amount, which could mean that any further "draconian penalties", as they put it, would include a points deduction.  Then again, much of the "context" around Chelsea Football Club has changed from the past couple years, so maybe they'll take that into account (i.e. the Mourinho Circus has moved north), though that may be hoping for too much.

It's not clear if The FA ever formally warned Chelsea about the possibility of continuing breaches of Rule E20 resulting in points penalties, though the Mirror's report claims that the club "are aware" of the threat and have requested a personal hearing (which isn't all that uncommon, the hearing that is).

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