Date: 5th February 2018 at 7:53am
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For Saturday’s lunchtime kick off against Burnley Pep Guardiola’s decision to name only six substitutes instead of the maximum allowed seven has sparked a debate which, I am sure, it was partly the intent.

Guardiola has been measured and calm in his press conferences when discussing the frankly awful officiating which City have been subject to over the past two months. Two months which have seen Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, Gundogan and Brahim Diaz lucky escape serious injury but witnessed Gabriel Jesus and Leroy SanĂ© hacked down by opponent’s whose punishment has been as lenient as their challenges have been outrageous.

Gary Neville

The smug, pontificating Neville who barely managed a top class side for four months before getting sacked (as he was not up to the task) chose to declare that Pep’s decision was a ‘joke’ prior to kick off on Saturday. Doubtless he is secretly pleased that his old club’s rivals are finding their quest for trophies handicapped by the loss of these players as it may make the gap between the Transfer Champions and City less stark if City cannot punish teams as ruthlessly as they were earlier in the season.

Sadly this a view which he should be ashamed of as a professional pundit and commentator – surely he would be better advised to comment about the fact that Guardiola is perhaps making a point to the authorities through this decision and that the nature of opposition tackling is the real issue. A point which were he to openly discuss his views would land him in hot water and facing a ban for daring to air the ‘heresy’ that the competence of some referees is questionable.

WATCH: Was Pep Guardiola within his rights to name six substitutes at Turf Moor?

Now the rant!

I certainly felt that Sterling`s at times was less than confident when receiving the ball as if at any moment he might get whacked from behind…and it made me wonder whether this tentativeness, a natural result of so many poor challenges recently, was/is going to affect our play.

Normally when you touch the ball briefly and make quick, one touch passes it is a protection against contact as opponents won’t get close enough to foul as you won’t have the ball long enough or won’t bother as they are at risk of getting booked. But if it’s open season on City players and you get a few free fouls more than normal before you collect a booking…well, tuck in boys, fill your boots. If you think you`re going to get a whack every time you receive the ball your play and decision making WILL be affected.

For the thugs – job done

The effect of the ‘reducer’ tackle in a game is to make the tricky, fleet footed winger think twice about looking to demand the ball again or try and go past the full back. If they think they are going to get hurt they choose a different option – not quite taking a position to receive the ball (hide); opt to pass the ball back inside (safe).

Young Brahim will have not been likely to have been on the receiving end of a tackle like Matt Phillip’s cowardly one on Wednesday night. He will have been fouled and been taken a bit later playing against lads his own age but won’t have had the brutal message (‘welcome to the Big Boys League you tricky b*****d’) from a seasoned professional delivered with such brute and malicious force. It would be unsurprising if it didn’t dwell on his mind and make him hesitate…even just a fraction…and affect his decision making. That was one of the worrying things about hearing Sterling’s comments about being ‘butchered’.

It is going to take a strong mind and bravery to carry on playing with the same freedom to deny the cumulative effects of these tackles/foul and the weak mindedness of the referees.

THAT is what Pep means about protection being needed. If you think such fouls will get properly punished you can go about your job with confidence – ‘I may take a whack but they won’t do it twice’. If you have no trust in the referee to punish the offenders and stop them, then you may think ‘I am going to seriously hurt’ and take the less dangerous option…and impact how penetrating our play can be.

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