What three things did we learn from the Chelsea game?
Anthony Taylor caused the melee at the end of the game
It has often been said that you know when a referee has had a good game when you hardly know they are there. Well, Anthony Taylor’s ‘performance’ at the weekend was a shocker and there was no way he wasn’t going to get noticed. In fact his ‘performance’ was so bad that I would go as far to say that he must take significant responsibility for the fracas in added time which found City completing the match with 9 men on the pitch and the prospect of lengthy bans for two key players during a critical period of the season.
I say this because I believe that it was his chronically inept actions throughout the game which created a sense of deep frustration among the City players resulting in a loss of composure especially from Aguero whose poor challenge on Luiz lit the blue touch paper. Taylor’s litany or errors started with his failure to book Cahill for a late challenge on Aguero on the halfway line whilst booking Otamendi for a fair and legal tackle in the same area a short while later; reached a pinnacle of incompetence with his utterly inexplicable decision not to sanction Luiz with a red card for his for his obstruction of Aguero and denial of a goal scoring opportunity through to his failure to award a penalty for Kante’s foul on Gundogan shortly before halftime and his subsequent decision not to send off Chalobah for his two handed shove of Aguero after the foul on Luiz.
I could go on but suffice to say that his influence went beyond the immediate impact on a game of not taking the correct decision in individual cases i.e. awarding a free kick and reducing a side to ten men. By creating a sense of injustice through these decisions, whether justified or not (and it felt justified on Saturday afternoon I can tell you), this can create a toxic mix in a footballer’s mind which affects how they play. Challenges might not be made for fear you will get carded even though you win the ball fairly; runs beyond defenders not taken because you have a doubt in your mind that if they clean you out you’ll not get a free kick or worse get a booking for diving. This doubt is insidious and creeps into your mind, sapping confidence that you will get a fair shake and can lead to poor decisions. Aguero has form with Luiz (just look back to the FA cup semi-final in 2013) and probably felt aggrieved that the Brazilian got away with a sly stamp on his ankle at a corner in the second half which was not seen by the referee…the build-up of frustration after having been denied a final chance to advance on goal by a player who had blatantly obstructed him earlier in the game and who shouldn’t have been on the pitch was too much and in that spilt second he made a bad decision and chose to vent his frustration with a poor challenge.
Aguero made the tackle, he is responsible for his actions and will face the consequences of that there is no question. The red mist got the better of him but it did so because of the referee’s decision making throughout the game. The conditions that led to that challenge and what followed were created, in my opinion, by the poor way in which the referee managed the game. He bottled the Luiz sending off and from then on the dye was cast – his bottling of that big decision had a bigger impact than what might have happened had he reduced Chelsea to ten men. The bread crumbs of what happened in added time can be traced right back to that decision.
Referees can influence games – in more ways than one. Boy don’t we know it.
The Dark Arts for Football and where to find them
We saw some classic examples of football’s dark arts at the Etihad on Saturday afternoon and City’s players got caught out more than once. If there were classes in ‘how to get your opponent booked/sent off’ then Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas could augment their already large salaries by demanding huge fees for giving lessons. First Costa – seeing Otamendi going to ground to win the ball as it broke near the half way line he decided that here was a great opportunity to get your chief opponent in the game on a yellow card and make him much more circumspect for the remaining 75 minutes. His ear piercing shriek and clutching of an apparent compound fracture to his leg after the challenge where Otamendi slid sideways with his studs down were enough to do the trick. Thankfully the almost life threatening injury healed very quickly once the salve of a yellow card for his chief opponent was applied by sympathetic nurse Taylor. Job done. Otamendi in his pocket. Otamendi’s reaction to the booking was symptomatic of the frustration created by Taylor’s decision making – I refer to the first thing we learned on Saturday.
Fabregas though wins the prize for the most sly and deceitful application of these skills last Saturday. After being dragged away from the fracas in added time by Fernandinho he created a trap and our player of the season so far stepped right into it without even knowing. Fabregas’s trivial, limp-wristed slap to the Brazilian’s face was enough to get the reaction he wanted. Having goaded his opponent he immediately started walking backwards as the ‘innocent party’ all the time looking towards the officials…until he spared a glance behind him to see exactly how far he was from the low advertising hoardings. One final slight contact with his shoulder was enough for him to take the final three steps back to allow him to topple over backwards and seal Fernandinho’s fate. Fabregas knew exactly what he wanted to achieve from the moment he slapped Fernandinho and he drew him in before executing the coup de gras with his ‘this will get the headlines’ fall over the hoarding. Deceitful, sly and calculated. A masterclass.
(Oh and whilst we are on the subject I wonder if the FA will take retrospective action for the sly back heal to the head of Seamus Coleman delivered yesterday by that arch-proponent of the Dark Arts – Ibrahimovic? Having fouled Coleman and then avoidably fallen on top of him he brought the back of his boot down on Coleman`s temple knowing the referee`s view was blocked. Coleman later had to leave the pitch. I think we all know the answer and I won`t be holding my breath).
City’s Achilles Heel – it’s not the defence
The defensive weakness which has meant we haven’t kept one clean sheet since mid-September might be easily cited as the team’s key weakness, it’s Achilles Heel. After all, keep the ball out of your net and you won’t lose right?
There is some truth in that for sure and defensively we have been porous but our profligacy in front of goal at the other end has been costing us dearly. From Aguero’s miss in the final minutes of the game against Boro which would have put City 2-0 up through to our failure to convert the chances we had to go 2-0 up against Chelsea our inability to be clinical with these scoring chances is hurting us badly. These moments matter. They can change the course of games, they affect how we play and how the opposition approach the game. Had De Bruyne’s chance hit the underside of the crossbar and gone in instead of ballooning off it into the crowd who knows how more confident we would have been and how more desperate Chelsea’s play might become?
Failing to keep a clean sheet might seem like our major problem but it would be less of an issue if we could improve our conversion rate at the other end.
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