Man United 4-3 Newcastle United: Cleverley the game changer and offside analysis

Jonny Evans celebrates scoring against Newcastle United

Authors: Stretford_End and Doron

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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.

That decision

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.

20 Comments on Man United 4-3 Newcastle United: Cleverley the game changer and offside analysis

  1. I’m sorry but if someone shoots straight at you, and you are standing in the 6 yard box, and you are in an offside position, you should be ruled offside whether you touched the ball or not. There is no way that Cisse was not interfering with play, standing between Evans and De Gea. There is a lot of confusion within the rule book, which leads to these controversial incidents, and whilst you have posted 3 videos of similar goals being allowed, but you could find way more that show goals being disallowed for the exact same thing. The rules need to go back to basics, to avoid these kind of issues, as if this had been the winner, and we lost the title on 1 point again, it would be an absolute travesty.

  2. Cisse was between Evans and De Gea, how could he NOT be interfering with play? The fact that he was stood there meant that Evans was distracted by him. The rule is ridiculous.

  3. My first reaction was that it shouldn’t have been allowed. I think Nik’s write up here is spot on and is really informative. Shows that you can still learn new things even as you get older!

    An amazing entertaining game. No doubt Fergie will want to tighten up at the back when we hit the Champions League again, and of course for the visits of Chelsea and City to Old Trafford – but you can’t say this isn’t entertaining?! We’ve let in as many goals as Norwich have so far…..

  4. cisse interferes the play. Evans would have never attempted to clear d ball if it wasn’t for cisse lurking behind him. And letting the ball in play with striker around is stupid in every respect, regardless of Wat any1 has to say. The presence of cisse actually forces Evans to play the ball and that is enough for me to conclude dat the striker has influenced the play.

  5. Taking the law away, Cisse has clearly had some kind of influence on the Evans OG. However, the law, wrongly or rightly, states that in this scenario, the goal stands. It may sound illogical but that’s just the way it goes.

  6. Excellent analysis; I’ve only recently found this blog and it’s quickly became the first stop when I wake in the morning to get some juicy reaction to the previous day’s game. I watched the game live via a dodgy stream, I read minute-by-minutes and watched extended highlights too, yet nobody seemed to pick up Cleverley’s impact on the game, instead it’s when Scholes left the game that we played better.

    I’m a sucker for fans’ opinions, my bookmark tabs will back that up, and I’ve found that there’s another surface which you scratch that nobody else doesn’t even touch. Your reference to the top-performing officials is one you wouldn’t find in many places, and it epitomises your unbiased outlook, which I think is key to your analysis.

    Look forward to reading lots more of fantastic reactions!

  7. Why do you skip straight over scenario 1, interfering with play? If he wasn’t interfering, Evans would not have had to try to play the ball, simple as that

  8. If Cisse wasn’t distracting/touching Evans or if he wasn’t behind Evans (making Evans aware that he had a lethal goal scorer that would put the ball in the net if Evans didn’t (try to to everything to get the ball away)) Evans wouldn’t have put the ball into his own net. De Gea and Evans’ communication would be clearer, maybe De Gea would’ve caught the ball, maybe Evans would’ve controlled the ball, I don’t know.

    All I know is that it wouldn’t have been a goal if Cisse weren’t involved in the situation.

  9. Jignesh (and others)

    I agree with your logic – I dont think you’ll find a referee who doesn’t. But I am just stating the facts here. Since the 2005 Confederations Cup, the powers that be have altered the interpretation of the offside law – to the extent where we are now seeing half the offsides we used to than we did back then!

    I tried my best to explain above that no matter the position of the attacker, if he doesnt touch the ball in this scenario then he can not be adjudged to have interfered with play or an opponent.

    Basically, Cisse just takes up a position and does in no way shape or form ask Evans to tackle him. If the ball reaches him, the flag is correctly raised.

    Evans, independent of Cisse, challenges – despite the fact we agree he would not if he was there. But the phases being as short as they are under the new interpretation, Evans immediately initiates a new one. So even if it wasnt an og and Cisse places ball in the net, this would still be legit!

    The clasico is the perfect example with Fabregas – there was lots of debate on refereeing blogs – and from myself on twitter – and the full consensus was that the right decision had been made not to raise the flag.

    It seems that the only thing that caused most of the controversy here is that Collin actually raised the flag in this situation. Therefore it looked ‘messy’ – but I can assure you it is correct by law, and that Collin wont be doing the same anytime soon.

    Thanks Ryan., much appreciated (from me and the guys).

  10. Poll, this website and several others seem to agree on this way of interpreting the rule. I have a different take on it all.

    For me the essential bit of the situation is defined by this paragraph in the interpretation of law 11 (the offside rule):

    “In the context of Law 11 – Offside, the following definitions apply:

    …interfering with an opponent” means preventing an opponent from
    playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the opponent’s
    line of vision or movements or making a gesture or movement which, in
    the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts an opponent”

    As shown in example 9 here:

    Clearly, Cissé must be deceiving/distracting Evans by tugging his arm and running for the ball right behind his back? Evans is obviously aware of Cissé and his movements and I am therefore adamant that this part of the law must apply.

    Clear offside for me.

  11. Hi guys,

    Just to echo that I also think this is an excellently written piece. And what I am about to say is not intended to pick wholes in, or criticise your point. But can I draw your attention to the link that Sten posted above, which are FIFA’s official guidelines on offside.

    Can I specifically refer to examples 9 and 12:

    Example 9 is almost a carbon copy of yesterday’s incident, the only difference being the ball went in the net rather than out for a corner. FIFA guideline: offside.

    Example 12 is basically the incident you referred to where you said ‘if it had come off Evans and to an attacker it would be onside, as a new phase of play begins.’ Official FIFA guidelines: offside.

    The point above any that I am making is this rule, its connotations and the understanding of it have become so subjective its ridiculous. I would argue all day long that Cisse is intefering and I would refer to example 9 from the official FIFA guidelines as my evidence. On the contrary I totally understand your (also completely logical) argument as to why by the rules it isnt offside. Isnt that a bit ridiculous?

    The whole point for bringing in this ‘active or inactive’ stuff was to prevent people injured or on the touchline from being called offside. Its been taken to the opposite extreme now – if a referee isnt clear that the rules will support him judging that somebody stood 8 yards from goal in a central position whilst a ball is played into the box is intefering with play, then the rule needs scrapping and starting again.

  12. “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.”

    I completely agree with this line of argument; when MC16 partners TheGingerNinja then he has two jobs to do – his own while also being Scholes’ minder. The result is that Carrick just doesn’t play as well in that situation. Giving MC16 a younger, fitter partner and you see a much different player who can BOTH sweep up and move forward.

    I hate the current off-sides rules. To my way of thinking, something like ice-hockey’s zonal approach would be simpler to administer/referee as well as rewarding teams for getting the ball into the attacking zone. In that situation, whether or not Cisse was “interfering” with play would be irrelevant as long as Newcastle had the ball in the attacking zone. Indeed, in that situation, Cisse could have been three yards beyond Jonny Evans and would not be “interfering” with play.

    The only down-side to the zonal system would be harrassing the keeper but that should be a relatively simple matter for an official to spot.

    The current, convoluted off-sides rules makes the game worse – not better. I see no need to have lawyers adjudicate football – they make a mess of so many other matters that it would be better to keep them out of the stadiums and, certainly, off the pitch.

    I know that StrettyRant can’t comment on each and every moment of the match but I was a bit surprised that so little was written about Chicharito’s tremendous goal. The pass was brilliant – and, yes, it was the second pass of that kind launched by MC16 – but the finish was outstanding. By keeping the ball on the ground, Chicharito made the keeper’s task much, much more difficult; if he had not kept the ball on the ground then the keeper’s chance of saving the strike was much more likely.

    I suppose it might be juvenile not to mention that Chicharito had missed several half-chances before scoring the winner – the point is, though, that he’s not called TheMexicutioner for nothing; he DID score the winner.

  13. John/Sten/Denton

    I have already tried to explain some of the points you raise in the article, and once again, I really do see your rationale and view of this particular scenario – I have had many a debate myself with top officials on this subject matter in the past couple of years.

    However it is important that you understand that this is the correct interpretation, and therefore factual and not open to subjective debate. Dean was correct, and here is why again:

    When the ball is played in, there are 4 things that could potentially happen:

    1. The ball can go directly in = goal
    2. The ball can reach Cisse = offside
    3. The ball can rebound of GK or post to Cisse (goal) = offside
    4. actual scenario = goal

    it is important that people understand that being in an offside position does not equate to ‘offside offence’.

    Firstly, Evans sees the full scope of the cross and is fully in control of his actions at all times. At no point does Cisse seek to move towards Evans to impeded, block or hinder Evans as you describe in the no. 9 example above. This example involves the striker coming from behind to hinder the CH clearance and is not a direct comparator at all.

    Being in an offside position does not equate to an offside offence, and the only mistake here is for AR to raise flag when unsure of whose contact it actually was. Dean can see clearly that it is Evans, but perhaps AR can quickly debate who on the speaker system.

    Cisse does not prevent Evans from clearing the ball at any point, and does not TOUCH the ball at any point. Effectively he is invisible. The refereeing team cannot presume that the ball will find its way to Cisse – not since the change in ’05!

    Cisse does not prevent de Gea from seeing the action take place as can be seen clearly from behind the goal camera. The movement of Cisse is also predictable and NOT deceptive, therefore does not interfere by position. And as per point 3 above, his position would only have made him active had the ball come to him, either by cross/post/GK rebound.

    Thanks for taking the time to read. It is a funny old law, but one that is brilliant in my view, and one incidentally, that Evans took advantage of in the equaliser, and one that United have benefited from far more (being more attacking and in final third more) than a lower ranked team such as Newcastle in recent times.

  14. Now I understand, Nik. Your clarification on the rule is one of the best I’ve seen on the subject. I sincerely thank you for that.

    My problem is now this: Why isn’t the rules clear enough? Clearly, the laws of the game must be made available and understandable to football fans around the world. And on this subject, it is clearly not. It must be a flaw when you need a highly educated referee to understand this, or am I wrong? I refereed myself 6-7 years ago and consider myself to have a high degree of understanding regarding the laws of the game. Despite this fact, I was adamant (as you can see from my above post) that this was a clear offside.

    Do you think the laws are to unclear on this subject Nik? What level are you refereeing on?

    As i understand from your posts (and others around) there is a significant difference between clearing the ball and deflections. Would you mind writing something about how you spot the difference, and how high level referees around the world act on that particular subject?

    Last, I really want to thank you (again) for taking your time to explain this. I have searched the web for a decent explanation, but you are the only one that has been able to explain this in full detail.


  15. You’re wrong Nik. That number 9 example is pretty much exactly what happened.

    “An attacker in an offside position (A) runs towards the ball preventing the opponent (B) from playing or being able to play the ball.
    (A) is making a gesture or movement which deceives or distracts (B).”

    Cisse was in an offside position, ran towards the ball, and prevented Evans from playing the ball, by distracting him. To argue that Cisse is effectively invisible is nonsense.

  16. Nik – I wasn’t disputing your interpretation of the off-sides rule; I was doing something different in arguing that the way in which footie adjudicates off-sides is unnecessarily complicated.

    Over the past six decades, I’ve watched a huge amount of ice-hockey by virtue of living in Canada and the way in which “off-side” is adjudicated in that sport is both simple and straightforward whereas in association football the “off-sides” ruling is incredibly complicated and frequently mis-called by the referee/linesmen, with the best of intentions.

    With regard to the Cisse incident, I really don’t care about the lawyering aspect of explaining the reasons behind Riley’s “correction” of the linesman’s instant decision – as WHY says (@ 3:15) “Cisse was in an offside position, ran towards the ball, and prevented Evans from playing the ball, by distracting him. To argue that Cisse is effectively invisible is nonsense.” Indeed, the very notion of “effective invisibility” is simply asinine.

  17. HI again Nik,

    Thanks for taking the time to produce another fantastically written reply. I’ll be totally honest, I feel a bit like the thick kid in the algebra class here ’cause I still have no idea how you can be a yard away from somebody and not be acting in a way that ‘distracts an opponent’ as described in the second part of example 9. I 100% understand everything you have said in your reply, it’s clear to see Evans was in complete physical control of his actions and wasnt physically impeded, and Im prepared to accept that you are right (you have a hell of a lot more experience dealing with these scenarios than I do!) but I still think the rule is very grey, and i still think its fairly open to interpratation. Im not speaking with club bias at all here – I thought the goal Asenal conceded against Everton (Saha I believe) under reasonably similar circumstances (new phase of play due to a defender touch in spite of a player being offside) was the wrong decision aswell. Maybe I am just stuck in the old ages and can’t remove myself from subconciously applying the ‘old’ offside criteria..

    Do you feel that the guidance to referees is clear on this? In other words if you were to privately survey x amount of referees they would all say this should have been a goal?

    ANyway I will stop wittering on here, thanks very much again for clearing this up as much as my narrow mind will allow you to!

  18. @Why – “and prevented Evans from playing the ball, by distracting him” – how?! Evans made a beeline towards the ball’s movement of his own accord. He wasn’t prevented playing it at all.

  19. I’m not sure why this is so difficult to grasp. Do you really think that Cisse had no bearing or influence on the ‘own goal’?

    If Cisse had not distracted Evans, Evans would have been under no pressure whatsoever, and would almost certainly have cleared or controlled the ball. But by distracting Evans, Cisse clearly prevented him from playing the ball in the manner he intended (I assume we can agree that Evans did not intend to put it in his own goal?).

    IMHO, the only difference between this one and example 9 is that if Evans had kicked it into touch, I think it’s arguable that it should have been a corner, as Cisse would not have prevented him from playing the ball… Once it goes in though, Cisse’s definitely interfering with Evans and the offside decision should have stood.

  20. If I have understood Nik correctly, the law states that Cissé does not interfere with play untill he actually interferes. Evans is aware of his positioning and Cissé does not hinder him in any way (yes, there is contact. But that alone is not, according to the law, enough the be “deceiveing or distracting” Evans).

    There is no doubt in my mind that Cissé had influence on the goal. Had he not been there, Evans would never try to clear it like that. But, Cissé has no _direct_ influence on Evans’ actions, and therefore the decision is correct.

    As I’ve written earlier, I do believe that the laws need to be updated. It is not healthy for the game if you have to be a referee to understand decisions. And, before I got it explained, example 9 looked to me like the best example on the situation.

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