It was Grand Slam Sunday yesterday as Manchester United hosted fierce rivals Liverpool before Arsenal played Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. In a rather uncharacteristic fashion, the games had a fair dose of entertainment about them, but that was the only way in which this special Sunday differed from the other special Sundays. As usual, the games were of the utmost importance, the atmosphere inside the grounds was incendiary and the referees will have caused plenty of controversy.
Steve Bennett and Mark Clattenburg were in charge at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge respectively and since these two referees do not have the best of track records, some might have raised an eyebrow or two at their selection, but most fans let their whistle do the talking. Here is how they did:
(Apart from a few very dubious decisions, Steve Bennett had a fair game)
As is customary with such games, this one started in a rather high tempo, and Manchester United fans might have felt hard done early on. As Rooney broke through on goal, a desperate tackle from Carragher inside the area which made no contact with the ball, seemed to derail the Manchester United forward. Rooney however stayed on his feet and attempted to score; after he missed he appealed for a penalty – which was not given. The challenge was rash by the Liverpool defender, but you rarely see those fouls given, especially when the forward does not go to ground. It was a fair decision.
Mr. Bennett could not keep blunder-free for long. On eleven minutes Mascherano was sent into the book for a late tackle on Paul Scholes (observe the irony). The main talking point was whether this tackle deserved a yellow: it was Mascherano’s first foul of the game and rather harmless overall. Nevertheless it seemed to be intentional and late. Maybe in normal circumstances, he would not have been booked for that tackle, but Mr. Bennett might have been eager to keep the match under control so he was set on booking the first bad tackle. Overall this was a poor decision.
The next talking point came at the end of the first half. Ferdinand committed a rather rash foul on Torres near the half-way line. Not a booking by any means, however the Spaniard chose to defend his case a talk to the referee about his decision. After Mr. Bennett had enough of Torres’ opinion, he promptly booked him for dissent. No question about that decision. But moments later we saw stupidity personified. Perhaps a bit unhappy that Torres was booked, Mascherano chose to confront the referee on that decision.
The way in which the Liverpool midfielder made his opinion known – in an aggressive manner – must have upset Mr. Bennett who decided that the manner of the Argentine’s protests were worthy of a yellow card. And so Mascherano was sent off. If his first yellow card was dubious, there was no question that the second one was well deserved. Mr. Bennett was only being consistent. He booked Torres for protests a couple of seconds before, so why should he not book Mascherano? For all the controversy it sparked, it was a good decision.
The rest of the game was rather quiet both for Manchester United and Steve Bennett. He continued to be consistent with his policy as Ferdinand saw yellow for kicking the ball away after the whistle and Arbeloa was booked for professional foul minutes earlier. The one other, tiny mistake he made was not sending Ronaldo in the book after an outrageous dive from the Manchester United winger a couple of minutes from time.
(Mark Clattenburg had a bad game)
As Manchester United won the early game, this one became doubly important as both teams looked to put pressure on the defending champions who were again beginning to open a lead at the top of the table.
Things did not begin in good fashion for the referee as with only four minutes on the clock, Drogba somehow wins a foul near the Arsenal area. In the end the opportunity came to nothing, but Eboube was booked breaking for charging the ball before the free kick was taken. Fair decision here. Perhaps that free kick should not have been given and Eboue would have been spared a booking.
Deserved yellow cards followed for Joe Cole and Ballack, before William Gallas was wrongly ruled offside as he managed to hit the post. The opportunity came to nothing, but it was a wrong call nevertheless.
Chelsea, however might have been a bit upset when in the space of a minute, they had two penalty decisions turned down. The first was a clear mistake by the referee. Ballack looked to head the ball, but Adebayor impedes him by climbing on top of him. It looked to be a certain penalty decision, but Mr. Clattenburg begged to differ. Fair enough: wrong decision.
The second penalty call was well dealt with by the referee. Kalou was flattened by Toure, but replays showed that it was just a coming together as both players had their eyes on the ball. Very good call here – some might have given a penalty.
The second half did have showcased some rather influential wrong decisions by the referee and his assistants. To start with, Eboue, already booked, deliberately handled the ball in an attempt to get away from Makelele. It should have been his second yellow card – a decision which could have turned the game on its head and made Wenger a furious man. The handball however was not spotted and Eboue remained on the pitch.
The second and last bad call from the referees was an offside position. Replays showed that Drogba was in an offside position as he received the ball just before equalizing.
Wenger was right and Arsenal’s title challenge might have taken a huge dent because of a bad referee decision. But after all the referees are only human and with the atmosphere which was generated in both stadiums in today’s game, they would have had to have a fantastic match to get every decision right.
Steve Bennett – 7/10
Mark Clattenburg – 5/10