And so it continues – Liverpool, one of the best attacking sides seen in England in the past 20 years – are denied clear penalties while average sides like Crystal Palace and Everton continue to win them at a rate you’d expect of Barcelona at their best.
I don’t think I’ve been as pleased with a league win in years, because it was apparent from the first half that the trend continues: Brits win penalties, foreigners do not. The trend is so alarming that I will continue to highlight it; and it should interest fans of any club whose team isn’t fully of jobbing Brits.
Articles on TTT are now, as much as possible, subscriber only, but my ongoing refereeing reviews will be free, as it’s such a clear issue. In this instance, I will outline my alarm at incompetent or biased officiating (which also benefited the Reds in two incidents) before moving onto the game itself (for subscribers only).
REMEMBER, I am not saying that this a bias against Liverpool, or a conspiracy. But it is a bias against foreign players; a mistrust of all things foreign as British as roast beef.
Then, every week, Dermot Gallagher pops up to tell us that the refs got everything right, and this backs up the referee’s union stating that they get 99% of decisions right – as if anything over 80% could even be humanly possible. It’s that kind of bullshit that winds me up. To say you get 99% of calls right is like being a spotty 13-year-old geek who claims to have had sex with every Hollywood leading lady, pop star, porn star and runway model in America, as well as any other 13-year-old-geek’s wet-dream women. It’s ludicrous.
No wonder no English refs are going to the World Cup. Since late last year I’ve been noting, by analysing every penalty incident in the Premier League this season, that refs discriminate against overseas players. They don’t examine their own competence as they are in a bubble of perfection.
Remember, 60% of penalties go to British players, who comprise just 40% of the personnel in the league, and an even lower proportion of the attacking talent.
40% of penalties are awarded against British players, which is 100% in keeping with a lack of bias. You would expect 40% of the penalties to have been given away by Brits, when they comprise 40% of the players.
But for 60% of awards to go to British players shows that refs trust Brits not to dive, even though the worst offenders in recent years are shown to be Dele Alli and that man Wilfried Zaha (whom I happen to think looks a great player these days, but who has some gall to say Mané dived, given his own previous bookings).
As I’ve also shown with research, Liverpool get more penalties in seasons when there are more British attacking players in the team, and fewer when more foreign attacking players are in the team. It is almost like clockwork.
You only had to see Zaha against Man City at the turn of the year to see how the former England international went down easily and the ref ate it up, whilst allowing knee-high assaults on City’s foreign players by journeymen Brits like Jason Puncheon to go with little or no punishment. Zaha dived that day, under no contact, but he got the penalty. Palace’s Brits targeted City’s foreigners with some horrible challenges that day, too. I fully supported Pep Guardiola’s decision to complain to referee’s about it.
The top PL penalty winners this season – the only players who have won more than two – are Dominic Calvert-Lewin (4), Raheem Sterling (4), Wilfried Zaha (3), Glenn ‘immobile’ Murray (3), and Jamie Vardy (3). All qualify (or have qualified) as British players. Indeed, all hold English passports.
I called Palace getting a penalty before the game, in my preview on this site. Zaha wins penalties, and Palace now are top with Everton for penalties won, on eight each, more than twice Liverpool’s three. Which makes zero sense.
Both of those average teams have received seven penalties apiece for fouls on British players; indeed, I think all 14 of these penalties went to English players. Calvert-Lewin, it seems, has the right to go down under any contact; Sadio Mané and Mo Salah do not, even if tripped, pushed or kicked. English players know how to flop. Arsene Wenger said they are now the masters at winning spot-kicks, and my data backs that up.
And there was even something fishy about Palace’s penalty today, even if there was no doubt about the contact on him was worthy of a spot-kick.
Zaha, a former England international, had his foot really high – six feet off the ground according to the co-commentator – and Karius then fouled him. If Zaha’s foot was lower then there would be no doubt it was a penalty, but what’s the issue on a high foot now? Wasn’t the high boot the first offence in the move?
What about Sadio Mané at City, when Emerson leant down to head the ball? Is a high boot an offence or not? Is it only if it hits someone? Surely dangerous play is dangerous play whether or not it connects, like swinging a punch? The punch doesn’t have to land. It all seems so arbitrary. (See this article for examples of the remarkably odd decisions the Reds are getting, and not getting, this season. Liverpool attack for 70% of matches, yet are penalised on penalties twice as often as they are awarded them.)
Mané was then fouled in the box, which was followed by an exaggeration that we can call a dive. But the foul came first. He was fouled in the box. He could do a somersault or a cartwheel afterwards, it matters not; just as if someone punches you, you can fall over when you want – it doesn’t alter the logic that you were punched before anything else happened.
Whether a foul is enough to send someone to the ground is also irrelevant; there doesn’t even need to be contact, but if the contact is clear, getting man not ball, it’s a penalty.
If it slows them up via illegal means, or knocks them off balance, it’s a penalty. Why should Mané stay on his feet when his advantage has been lost by the player clattering into his standing foot, after his skill wrong-footed him? If anything, the correct decision would have been a penalty to Liverpool and a yellow card to Mané for post-foul simulation, if such a combination is allowed.
Mané was then fouled on the edge of his own box, and grabbed the ball. The foul was clear – much clearer than when England international Loftus-Cheek (as many league penalties won this season as Salah and Mané combined) was ‘fouled’ later in the game in the same part of the pitch. The ref or linesman didn’t give the foul on Mané, which again was scandalous! It was so blatant. But Mané then deliberately handled the ball, so it had to be a yellow card – but only after the ref messed up the first decision, as he had with the foul on Mané in the box. If a player grabs the ball after going down, you know he knows he’s been fouled. It’s basic.
Early on, Zaha accidentally handled in the box, a la Solanke against West Brom at Anfield (at the Kop end, where Liverpool never get decisions any more). It wasn’t given against Zaha. Accidental handball is allowed by the laws, and only four penalties for handball have been given this season in the hundreds of games played (a fifth, to Bournemouth, has been awarded as I write). Yet Solanke’s accidental handball seems one of those super-rare cases of it being given against the player. Again, the referee or linesman didn’t see it, but disallowed it after West Brom’s protests (by all their English players); on the same part of the pitch where Jon Moss admitted giving a penalty to Spurs without any idea what had happened. It’s a farce.
In a recent piece I showed that all established Premier League teams get two-thirds of their penalties at home (since 2002), except Liverpool, at a measly 50%. Liverpool get Anfield penalties at a normal rate at Anfield in Europe, but hardly any at all domestically; just one in the league this season. Against Everton in the FA Cup, Adam Lallana did what Mané did outside the box today – stopped after being fouled (a minor foul, but a foul) – and Liverpool got a penalty. It wasn’t even in the top 10 penalty calls for the Reds this season. But it was a rare one where an English Liverpool player was involved, and of course, he got it. (Mané, Firmino or Salah would not have got that penalty.)
Referees pre-referee games, and act on biases and player reactions. The game is too fast for them to tell what actually happened, and they are too old to keep up; perhaps more so due to the speed of our league. I don’t necessarily like a lot about VAR, but it was noted today on the BBC by non-LFC “experts” that VAR would have given Sadio Mané the penalty today.
Refs award penalties in keeping with a bias against foreign players. Mané milked it, clearly. But so did Zaha against City or Calvert-Lewin against Liverpool. So did Lallana against Everton in the cup. So did Harry Kane – fouled by Karius, without doubt, but already flopping over before the contact even arrived. It was a penalty (although he was offside beforehand!).
Why are the top five penalty winners in the league this season all English, yet all the top attacking players are almost exclusively foreign?
Why do British managers see their teams get awarded more penalties? (This last point may be just because they like picking British players.)
Mo Salah is the outstanding attacking player in the league this year, yet his only domestic penalty since the opening day has been awarded by VAR, after the referee ignored the foul on him, as refs tend to do each week. Mané also hasn’t been given a penalty all season.
And as I noted a few weeks ago,
“Vardy alone has won more PL penalties this season than Salah, Mané, Sané, Aguero, Gabriel Jesus, Coutinho, Pedro, Romelu Lukaku, Anthony Martial, Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette, Son Heung-min, Christian Eriksen, Álvaro Morata and Eden Hazard combined.”
So, therefore any one of Calvert-Lewin, Sterling, Vardy, Zaha and Murray has won more penalties than all those players combined. And Zaha has barely played. That’s 14 penalties to those five Brits and two penalties to Salah, Mané, Sané, Aguero, Gabriel Jesus, Coutinho, Pedro, Romelu Lukaku, Anthony Martial, Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette, Son Heung-min, Christian Eriksen, Álvaro Morata and Eden Hazard in total.
This is not a pro-Liverpool bias on my part, as you can see – it affects other clubs with foreign attackers, and I’d be just as worried if I was a fan of those teams (although Liverpool do also suffer a separate anti-Anfield penalty bias). I am highlighting a serious issue that affects foreign players, and as such, I think VAR is essential. It breaks up the game, admittedly, but it means biases are put to one side and the video shows the true story. If it was just refs making human error, I’d say okay; but it’s clearly a bias, which they won’t admit to. It favours struggling clubs with lots of British players.
Also in this game you saw Virgil van Dijk, Roberto Firmino and Christian Benteke all have their shirts pulled heavily in the opposition box. Lovren had Benteke’s shirt, after the two Liverpool players had theirs clearly pulled minutes earlier; the one on VvD utterly blatant, away from the crowd of players and right in front of the ref. Two weeks ago Benteke was denied a clear penalty, but then Townsend won one. Again, it keeps favouring the Brits. Even if the fouls on Brits are legit, it’s the ignoring of fouls on foreigners that is the concern.
Anyway, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so conscious of a Liverpool team having to battle the officials in a game. With an entirely foreign strike force – who have scored over 70 goals between them this season – Liverpool will struggle to get decisions until VAR is introduced, and playing a Brit-heavy team with an English manager at a stadium where loud calls are made by the crowd this was always going to be a minefield.
Add the scheduling by the league and you have to wonder if the Premier League wants its teams to do well in Champions League.
In amongst the round of 16 (in a season with five English teams competing at the outset) they scheduled Man United vs Liverpool (thankfully the Reds had won their tie already, but United hadn’t), and now, in the last eight, they’ve purposely arranged “derby weekend” in the six days in between the European ties. It’s fucking insane. Other countries move their league games back to Fridays, whereas in England we arrange derby day to make it that much harder. Next weekend, City have an advantage as they don’t need to win, albeit due to their brilliance up to now (not helped by referees, I have to say… vs Liverpool aside!)
While there was no guarantee of English teams being in the last eight, the odds of one or two getting that far were not extreme. And they cosily arrange these derby games so that they all appear on the same day, each season, so it’s not a random computer-generated series of fixtures. It’s planned. Had United still been in the competition it would have shafted them too, just as it shafted them in the previous round (they put so much into the Liverpool game they looked jaded by the time Sevilla arrived days later, although they still lined up in an overly negative manner.)
Thankfully the Reds’ battling qualities shone through at Selhurst Park, but injuries to Joe Gomez and Adam Lallana – perhaps both related to England duty – couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Still, time for the positives …
The final part of this article, where I wax lyrical about Mané and Salah – is for subscribers only.