Manchester United and Chelsea met on Sunday in a battle that will be remembered as much for its controversy as for its scintillating action – with incident aplenty, picks through the action from Stamford Bridge
It feels like the same old story this Monday, a tale as old as time – a game spoiled, ruined even, by the hands, eyes, and whistle of one man. That poor soul in the middle, the hapless arbiter, the English referee. My father once decreed that being an umpire was possibly the finest way to lose friends, and as the dust settles from Chelsea and Manchester United’s bruising encounter, Mark Clattenburg may well be inclined to agree.
The referee was at the heart of many of Sunday’s flash points, regrettably so, as I have always felt that umpires, like good songwriters, ought to be almost invisible in their influence. Clattenburg, sadly, was not, and the commute’s discussion of the Sabbath’s beautiful game can’t help but bear his name. Indeed, Blues boss Roberto Di Matteo left no doubt as to his opinion of Clattenburg’s officiating, stating bluntly that he thought the game had been ‘ruined’ by poor decision making.
Where to begin? Chelsea have their reputation – the snarling, smug, superior powerhouse of West London, the Roman Empire, the Prem’s pantomime villains; never afraid to ruffle a few feathers, to assert themselves, or to employ the dark arts. Yesterday, the Pensioners were stunned by a five minute period in which they received two red cards – even by their standards this was bad.
First, Branislav Ivanovic was dismissed for a cynical foul on Ashley Young as the midfielder broke through on goal, and minutes later, Fernando Torres was sent packing for a second yellow – received after Clattenburg had identified a Torres tumble as simulation. Whilst Ivanovic’s straight red is hard to contest, opinion has been split as to whether the Spaniard deserved his second caution. It was a bold, brave decision to make, and Clattenburg made it.
As Di Matteo stated afterwards, to make that choice, the ref needed to have been 100% sure – could he have been, truly, sincerely, 100%?
It was only a matter of time before Chelsea’s nine succumbed to United’s eleven, but to add insult to very serious injury, the winner had more than an ounce of dubiousness about it. Another close call from the refereeing team, and another error – Chicharito ghosting in from an off-side position to slip the ball past the despairing clutches of Petr Cech.
The darker allegations came after the match: Chelsea, no strangers to the prescribed mores of racial discourse, allegedly submitting an official complaint against the language used by Clattenburg. Goal’s own George Ankers reported earlier that a formal grievance made by the Blues indicated that the referee used ‘inappropriate language’ towards two of their player, whilst the BBC also referred to a ‘racial’ aspect to the Clattenburg complaint, indicating that John Obi Mikel was once of two players offended by comments made.
Doubtless this narrative will run and run, but whatever becomes of the official charge made by Chelsea, an engrossing weekend of Premier League action has once more ended on a sour note, once more it is gripe and grievance that takes the spotlight from goals and glory.
May justice be done, but may we also be given back our game.
Alas, I am loathe to let controversy and complaint steal all the lustre of what was a pulsating and, at times, mesmerising encounter at Stamford Bridge – well worth its Super Sunday billing.
Chelsea know what they are, apparently, never hesitating to announce to anyone that will listen that they are ‘Champions of Europe’ – everyone hears it, as Shakhtar play hosts in Ukraine: ‘We know what we are’, as Spurs are put to the sword: ‘We know what we are’, as Norwich or Nordsjaelland are taken apart: ‘We know what we are’. Every time, the same song rolled out, a snarling smirk to the opposition, a superior strut…inevitably to victory: ‘Champions of Europe, we know what we are.’
But not this time. To suggest that Manchester United were devastating from the off is almost an understatement. The Reds tore out of the blocks, and seemingly went right for the jugular. Before the rotating choruses had even begun in West London, United struck – David Luiz opened the scoring, but unfortunately for him, the ball was inadvertently turned passed his own keeper. Van Persie doubled Chelsea’s trouble soon after, a trademark strike setting United up with a seemingly unassailable lead.
However, even shorn of their two talismanic figures – John Terry and Frank Lampard missing the match through suspension and injury – this Chelsea team are made of steely stuff. Even with United attacking them competently down the flanks, they managed to first reduce arrears, and then draw level – Juan Mata and Ramires the saviours either side of half time.
The late controversy eventually stole the headlines, before Javier Hernandez’s contentious winner essentially closed the game as a contest. It was engrossing, pulsating, and at times mesmerising, there was finesse and there was power, there was technique and there was trickery, there was genuine passion, and authentic style…not that anyone noticed.
A different day, familiar protagonists, and the same old story in English football.
Ed Dove
Mikel at the centre of controversial United/Chelsea clash
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