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After the pre-Christmas draw at Swansea, United were hoping to get back to winning ways at home to Newcastle United. The Geordies, whilst fresh from a big morale boosting win over QPR, had injury issues and a pretty naff record at Old Trafford to contend with. This was to be a wet, sodden game that provided much more drama and entertainment than one could have imagined. We welcome comments from both sets of supporters.
Fergie makes changes as injuries mount
Changes to the starting line up were inevitable. With games today (Wednesday), Saturday and Tuesday this period was always going to be a full squad affair. In came Smalling, Ferdinand, Scholes, Giggs and Hernandez. The real story though was on the bench with the not a single attacking player included – Cleverley being the most forward-thinking of the lot.
With Nani and Anderson already injured, and Kagawa just finding his way back from a long injury, it was unwanted and unwelcome news to discover that both Rooney and Young had picked up injuries in training on Tuesday and Welbeck was ill. Rooney’s injury will see him miss 2-3 weeks whilst no further prognosis has been offered for the others. It’s a blow to lose so many attacking players right now as it not only increases the reliance and burden on those who are fit, but it means they can’t be rested without United delving into the U21s. Tunnicliffe was included on the bench today but surprisingly, neither Macheda, Henriquez or Petrucci were. Bebe’s off on loan to Rio Ave whilst one must assume Powell isn’t fit either.
Looking ahead to West Brom at the weekend, it seems that despite being badly out of form, Valencia will continue to hold a place in the side when in reality it may be best to rest him for a bit. Similarly, van Persie, who has no issues with form, is unlikely to get a break either. Typically, just as defensive options become more plentiful, those who play in front are dropping like flies.
Cleverley the game-changer helps Carrick
Yet again, Carrick was a key cog in United’s win. On the whole, this was by no means was one of his best performances for United. Despite having a solid partnership in the second half of last season, Carrick and Scholes just don’t seem to be clicking this time round. Scholes, for all his passing genius, hasn’t the legs to play in a two man midfield any more and it seems to restrict Carrick who has to spend too much time tidying up or doing the running for Scholes.
Scholes though had little to do with a rare error from Carrick that lead to the opening goal. Hernandez for some reason played a very heavy pass over a short distance to Carrick – it bobbled right in front of him but Carrick’s good enough to control such a pass and yet a heavy touch allowed Newcastle to knick the ball and eventually de Gea parried a short right into Perch’s path. It’s the second game de Gea has done that – odd for a keeper who’s usually very good at getting the ball away to either side well.
It was only when Scholes went off after 70 minutes that Carrick really came to life. He’d already played a few tasty looking passes but with Cleverley next to him he was able to take more risks knowing young Tom could fend for himself defensively. He should have had more than two assists in the end – van Persie put a hard volley wide after a delicious clipped ball forward – but it was the two last goals that he played a key part in. For van Persie’s he stuck out a boot to cleverly deflect the ball back to Robin to have a shot on goal; it was definitely intended. For Hernandez’s winner, it was perfect service. Rio tweeted after a game that Carrick had served it up on a plate for Javier as his cross come pass cut out a load of Newcastle defenders allowing Hernandez to be one on one with Krul.
Let’s just hope Carrick’s been wrapped in cotton wool ahead of the games against West Brom and Wigan.
Van Persie is more than a goalscorer
There will be more on this topic to come on the blog over the next few weeks but now he’s very much settled within the club, we’re starting to see more of what Robin’s about. Naturally it’s the goals he gets praised for more than anything else but he really is so much more than just a goalscorer.
With Rooney absent to injury he played the free role that Wayne’s often given. At times he got the ball out wide or deep and when United weren’t in possession he worked tirelessly to try and help get it back, often found on the edge of United’s own area. In an attacking sense, his positioning and timing were flawless but it was his ability to hold up the ball and bring others into play that stood out more than anything against Newcastle. One could easily argue that he’s proving to be everything we hoped Berbatov would be and indeed Fergie was right, we did need some more maturity in the final third of the pitch.
The Evans own goal
Ferguson: “You know he’s (Collin, assistant referee) quite right that Mike Dean doesn’t have the benefit of a video replay, which I had at half-time, when I saw it I knew right away it was a mistake.”
Let’s make it clear from the start. If Evans had not made contact with the ball, and Cisse was able to score, Fergie’s post-match assessment would be spot on; Cisse would have gained an advantage by being in an offside position. But Evans did, and Cisse didn’t gain such an advantage, so unfortunately on this occasion, Fergie is wrong to berate Dean and Collin*.
Why was the flag raised?
To be fair to Jake Collin (one of the league’s in-form assistants along with Child, Beck and England), the reason he probably raised the flag early is due to the likelihood of a goal being scored by Cisse prior to Evans’ interception – i.e. he would prefer to assist Dean prior to a potential goal being scored, thus making the decision appear less ‘controversial’. As we now know, this had the opposite effect, but Dean is an experienced UEFA (first group) official, and correctly chose to consult with his assistant before deciding on what action to take. The best referees are continually analysing the phase by phase scenarios, even if offside calls are generally 99.9% decided by the assistant.
Why is the over-rule correct?
A player is generally penalised for being offside if he is adjudged to have met any of the following criteria:
• Scenario 1- Interfering with play
• Scenario 2 – Interfering with an opponent
• Scenario 3 – Gaining an advantage by being in that position
Was Cisse not interfering with an opponent?
Whilst there was post-match talk that Cisse was interfering with Evans because he has a slight tug at his jersey, again this is a misinterpretation. Firstly, Evans and Cisse are equally culpable in terms of shirt tugging, as is common between centre back and attacking in the penalty area. But secondly, the law states the following:
If an attacker interferes with an opponent by either preventing them from playing or being able to play the ball, then they are offside.
Here, Cisse did not prevent Evans from playing the ball (i.e. by blocking him in trying to open up space for a fellow attacker), and certainly Cisse’s position could not have been adjudged to have interfered with de Gea’s attempt to save the Evans ricochet. As the ball is played in, the Newcastle forward does not in any way impede de Gea’s (or block his view) ability to save the ball. Evans is thus adjudged to have started a ‘new phase of play’ with his intervention, and whilst this seems to be extremely harsh, and certainly doesn’t seem to ‘fit’ aesthetically, it is something that both FIFA and UEFA have worked tremendously hard on with their officials in recent years. The thinking is actually about making the game more pleasing for the fans, with less constraints, and inevitably more attacking play, and of course, goals. It is worth noting that the frequency of offside calls has dropped considerably since the change in 2005.
The directive is clear now (and probably the reason why their appears to be more controversial decisions), and is essentially this: If the defender intervenes prior to the ball reaching the attacker (beyond the second last defender), a new phase is initiated. Whether this is a header from a long punt up-field, or a cross from out wide, the attacker (much in the same way Ruud made famous) can position himself in such positions, as long as they do not gain an advantage or interfere with play. Thus, an attacker cannot stand offside but block a defender’s route to the ball, and nor can he block the goalkeeper’s view, but otherwise standing offside perfectly legitimate.
Its tough for United and Evans, who will rightly state that he would never have attempted to defend the cross had Cisse not been in such a position, but perhaps this is where coaches need to get wise? If Evans was absolutely certain of the offside, the instruction must surely be to allow the ball to reach the attacker – thus meaning the player is immediately penalised. Not an easy scenario granted, but one where in this instance, would have been the best outcome for the team.
Similar instances of this law application
Only recently did we see Vertonghen’s goal ruled legitimate versus Swansea at White Hart Lane. Dean was again the referee incidentally, and Elite category assistant, Stephen Child was the active assistant referee on the day. As you can see in the clip, when the ball is centered from a deep right position, Vertonghen is positioned ever so slightly in an offside position. The Swansea forward Michu however, attempts to head clear the ball, but does not make clear contact. The ball finds its way to the Dutch defender, who duly scores. The interpretation here is that the ball does not find Vertonghen directly and was thus not gaining an advantage at that particular point. Michu clearance not only starts a ‘new phase’, but of course an attacker cannot be offside if a pass is played by the defending team. N.B. this wouldn’t be the case, if for example Michu was in the wall and the ball glances off his head, directly into the path of the Spurs player, and this would have been correctly ruled offside.
From 5.26 onwards in this video clip of the La Liga encounter between Real and Barcelona last season, you can see a similar instance of the new phase of play being started almost instantaneously from what initially looks like a clear offside against Cesc Fabregas when Sanchez flicks Iniesta’s pass into the ‘path’ of the Spaniard. However, the assistant rightly delays the flag as Coentrao (playing right back) immediately slides to clear the ball. Messi actually scores within 5 seconds of this occurrence, but talk after the game in Spain was how brilliant the refereeing team performed, particularly in this regard.
As Jonathan Wilson concludes in the article linked earlier, ‘The modern offside law remains unappreciated, but it has generated a climate in which some of the most beautiful football ever played has been produced.’
*Fergie’s verbal volley at Collin prior to the second half commencing is something the Scot should look back at in regret. Even if the decision was not correct, Ferguson should be setting the example to the rest of the league and not showing his anger in such a manner. His assessment of Oliver in the last game was also overly harsh, and not in keeping with his mellowed approach to the game in recent years.
Another afternoon of watching United that just made little sense. Three times they went behind and still went on to win the game. It’s the same old story of bad defending, particularly on goals 1 and 3, followed by relentless waves of attack and ultimately ending in a late winner. Evans, Evra and van Persie continue to be among the scorers – goals from defenders continue to be crucial (somewhat worryingly our defenders have now scored one more league goal than our midfielders this season).
To add to the footballing drama, the game had contentious decisions, from an ‘offside’ goal to a penalty appeal and ended up with Ferguson and a member of Newcastle’s coaching staff berating the officials. At the end, United may look back on the game with a nervous smile – Valencia could have been sent off late on for a late challenge on Anita but a yellow card did feel right and Pardew concluded there was no malice in the tackle.
Newcastle have suddenly drifted down into 15th and are just five points above the drop zone. Their next fixture away to Arsenal doesn’t look much easier. For United, it’s home to high-flying West Brom whose away form has been patchy to say the least. Man City’s defeat at Sunderland means the gap has increased to seven points now – Hernandez’s late winner feels like a very big one indeed.