Singing The Blues
Before the kick off at Stamford Bridge yesterday, one of the Chelsea directors reportedly toasted his colleagues with the sign-off, “Here’s to three points and a quiet afternoon.”
It was anything but; once more, football was at it’s closest to theatre, with three acts, an intriguing subplot and a villain all taking their place on centre stage. First, the sub plot – with John Terry missing through suspension, eyes were on Rio Ferdinand. A worn t-shirt and handshake later, Ferdinand was inexplicably loudly booed throughout – he was able to further aggravate Chelsea supporters with his involvement in a goal for Robin van Persie, which put Manchester United 2-0 up.
The first act belonged to Manchester United; a positive team selection by Sir Alex Ferguson concentrated on where his side were strongest and his opponents were weakest, and they were able to exploit the avenue of the left side of Chelsea’s defence twice early on to storm into a lead. It was a start reminiscent of United’s opponents in recent games, with Antonio Valencia and Robin van Persie in particular in fine form.
The hosts dominated the second act; a concentrated period of pressure on the United goal looked as if it would pass without reward thanks to the sterling efforts of David de Gea in the visitors goal. Wayne Rooney undermined all his fine, committed work when he recklessly fouled Eden Hazard on the edge of his own area. Juan Mata is one of the league’s best from such a position, and he made no mistake. A second goal, the equaliser, was inevitable and when Ramires provided it early in the second half it seemed as if there would only be one winner.
Step forward Mark Clattenburg – the official had already made two high profile errors in the first half when failing to send off Fernando Torres for a dangerously high chest kick and then missing a David Luiz handball; but it was his decision to send off Branislav Ivanovic that was to prove pivotal. In fairness to the official, he just about got that right, with Ivanovic denying Ashley Young an opportunity to score, but he wouldn’t be so accurate minutes later when he dismissed Fernando Torres.
Torres went down after a challenge by Jonny Evans and was given a second yellow for simulation; perhaps the Spaniard could have maintained his balance but there was enough contact – in the modern game, at least – to justify going down. Torres paid the ultimate price and though two wrongs don’t make a right (considering the earlier challenge), he should have not have received a caution for the incident which saw him leave the game. The sending off raised a curious point; given the let off beforehand, is the forward entitled to be angry that he was ultimately sent off?
If Chelsea were feeling aggrieved by this point they were incensed shortly after when substitute Javier Hernandez did what he was brought on to do, and that was put the ball in the net. The problem was, he was in an offside position when Rafael crossed the ball, with the Mexican’s diminutive frame coming to his aid by presumably helping him be hidden from the linesman’s line of sight.
With nine men, United sought to score more, with Chelsea to their credit still trying to get something from the game. The last ten minutes seemed rather farcical (if, indeed, it wasn’t already), with Ferguson’s team choosing to counter when Chelsea pushed forward rather than press home their numerical advantage.
There’s no telling what would have happened in the game had Torres not been booked for diving and subsequently sent off; should United have gone on to win, the post-match debate would be about the value of Valencia’s (and Hernandez’s) good record against Chelsea or Robin van Persie underlining just why Ferguson was determined to sign him. Had Chelsea’s momentum helped them get a result even with ten men, they would have gotten the praise they rightly and richly deserved for their comeback. There might even have been discussion about Torres’ earlier challenge!
As it was – not for the first time, and not for the last – the referee in a big game was the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons. After Luis Suarez’s day out at Goodison Park, it was always going to take something special to become the day’s pantomime villain, yet Mark Clattenburg rose to the occasion.
It’s been said by some top flight managers over the last decade that referees actually covet that kind of attention, that they want the same kind of profile as the players. There might well be some truth in that and Clattenburg might not have necessarily been fazed immediately after the game – if the allegations made by Chelsea in their late evening statement are true and not the result of their anger, then the referee might realise that attentions for the officials is almost always a bad thing.
Chelsea can still take pride from their efforts prior to the sendings off – still a point clear at the top of the table, they haven’t been dealt a terminal blow by the decisions of Mark Clattenburg. The same might not be able to be said of Clattenburg’s own career.
by: Wayne Barton, October 30, 2012