Sunday’s 2-2 draw against Liverpool certainly did not lack for incidents and entertainment value, but the match could’ve — and probably should’ve — played out very differently if Sadio Mané had been correctly punished for his
elbow forearm into the face of César Azpilicueta not 15 seconds after kick-off. As it were, referee Anthony Taylor deemed it worthy only of a yellow card, and VAR did not deem that a clear and obvious error.
Taylor and VAR Darren England were two of the small minority (outside of Liverpool persuasion) to see it that way. England, who was a late and unexplained replacement for Paul Tierney, who had drawn Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp’s ire after his decisions in the 2-2 draw against Spurs a fortnight ago, apparently justified his decision by saying that Mané’s action was “reckless” but not “violent”, which just makes the whole thing even more a joke.
Yes, that should be a red card for Sadio Mane for a deliberate elbow to the face of Cesar Azpilicueta pic.twitter.com/zMozjfonaH— Has the Referee or VAR made a poor decision? (@PoorEPLreferees) January 2, 2022
Except of course no one was laughing, least of all the man at the receiving end, who was sporting a bit of shiner on his right eye in the post-match interview.
“[It’s] a clear red. I don’t mind if it is five seconds into the game it is a red. I don’t understand, we have had these kind of decisions the other day. It is a clear red card. We are getting these decisions against us and it can change the way of the game [...] I watched the replay but I didn’t need this because live I knew it was a red.”
And what makes it even more frustrating for not only fans but those actually involved in the games is the utter lack of consistency, sometimes even within a single game.
“Sometimes we are seeing a joke of penalties and sometimes we see real dangerous challenges and we don’t take action. We are seeing a few games where referees become a bit softer in terms of penalties and red cards and then it becomes opposite. We don’t see the same consistency in the same game and same season
-César Azpilicueta; source: BBC
The Chelsea captain wasn’t the only one to lay bare his frustrations at Anthony Taylor’s latest masterclass in a Chelsea match. Having now won just 1 of last 8 games he’s refereed for us, and just 3 of the last 14, he’s moved beyond a bad omen and well into the realm of conspiracy theory. Incompetence can only explain so much.
Head coach Thomas Tuchel wasn’t shy to point out that it was Taylor who took barely a look at a freeze-frame of Reece James at Anfield before sending him off, but didn’t bother to even have a second glance at the Mané incident.
“Sadio is my brother, my compatriot. But he should not have stayed on the pitch after one minute.”
-Édouard Mendy; source: RMC Sport via Mail
Sure, VAR is or should be involved to a certain extent in these cases, but it’s hard to ignore the common thread. And of course that was before the officials spent time reviewing Mateo Kovačić’s goal — to check if he had it in his locker, presumably, quipped the inimitable @FootballCliches at the time.
VAR checking the contents of Kovacic's locker— Adam Hurrey (@FootballCliches) January 2, 2022
Of course, again, Tuchel wasn’t laughing, especially as both referee and VAR missed a blatant handball in the area just a couple days ago in our game against Brighton & Hove Albion, and a blatant kick on Christian Pulisic also in the area went unpunished as well.
“If you remember the first game with the same referee and how quick it was to give a red card to us, I am not a friend of early red cards.
“I hate to say it because I love Mané and he is a nice guy and top player, but it is a red card. The elbow is in the face — it doesn’t matter if you do this after 20 seconds or 20 minutes.
“We come from a game against Brighton where we miss VAR calls in the box and suddenly VAR is checking a goal against Kovačić.”
-Thomas Tuchel; source: Sky via BBC
This lack of consistency, this lack of accountability, this lack of transparency is only hurting this so-called Best League In The World™. There may not be an easy solution, or even a good solution, but the league continuing to basically ignore this issue is not going to get us anywhere good.