Should Manchester City have had fewer than 11 men on the pitch by the end?



By Sir Hardly Anyone

It is not that often that there is a whole series of events in which the referee disagrees with most of the crowd, but the crowd end up delirious, but that is what happened on Sunday in Arsenal’s game against Manchester City.  And I can say that as a fact as I was there being as delirious as the next man (who went totally bonkers).

As you will recall it started with a possible red card for Kovacic following his challenge on Ødegaard in the 29th minute, as the Manchester City player caught Ødegaard with his studs above the ankle.  It must have been phenomenally painful.   The referee, Michael Oliver got out the yellow card, and VAR didn’t disagree.  Yellow it was.

So we might ask the question, with a different referee might something else have happened?  And the answer is yes.

Michael Oliver is running at 4.5 yellow cards per match this season, significantly below Andy Madely who has waved 6.3 yellow cards per game in this campaign.  On the other hand Oliver hasn’t shown a single red card this season.  Every other referee who has overseen four or more gmaes this season in the Premier League has shown at least one red card.

In fact he only showed one red card in the whole of last season in which he oversaw 30 Premier League games, while referees such as Taylor, Madely, Coote and Salisbury all waved three or more red cards last season – and all of those referees oversaw far fewer Premier League games than Oliver.

And to be clear I am not saying I want lots more cards.  What I want is consistency from one ref to another.

Now of course every game is different, but as ESPN said, “Kovacic is fortunate to only get a yellow card…. The Manchester City midfielder is late and catches Ødegaard, and there appears to be enough impact to make the leg bend.”   They then compare the lunge with “Malo Gusto‘s red card for Chelsea against Aston Villa, and Curtis Jones’ dismissal for Liverpool at Tottenham Hotspur.”

So as we can immediately see, whether one gets a red card or not is dependent not only on the way the tackle goes, but also on the referee, for in the Premier League we have red card refs and non-red card refs.  And from this one can tell how many cards there are likely to be in a game before it even kicks off.

But to be clear I am not trying to say more and more red cards is good; rather that the clubs know which referee they have got, and what sort of record he has in dishing out the cards.  Manchester City would have seen it was Oliver running the show, and so known they were likely to get away with more rather than less in the way of fouling.

Now we should also note here that it was Oliver who was involved earlier in the season when VAR failed to tell him that the goal by Nathan Aké (again for Manchester City, this time against Fulham) was offside. 

Of course this is not to say that Oliver is consistently giving Manchester City the benefit of the doubt – he did on VAR’s command dissallow a Manchester City goal against Chelsea last season.  But it is all a bit of an unfortunate coincidence, and there was more of this on Sunday’s game because most commentators have agreed that Kovacic should have got a yellow for his challenge on Rice a little later.

However the rules say that if a referee makes no decision, then VAR can’t intervene – which of course gives the refs rather a neat way out, and explains why Oliver can keep making things happen in his way – just one red card in 30 games last season – although that rather looks as if he felt he ought to be giving someone a red at some time.  That one was overturned on appeal.

And indeed in cases like this we can get that horrible feeling that referees are not just judging the match as it goes, but rather trying to respond to statistics.   For in 2021/22 he waved seven red cards (although some sources say it was eight), way above every other referee.  Other refs at the top of the league showed five reds (two referees) one four and one three.   Then suddenly he drops to very, very few. It all really seems a bit unbalanced, as if PGMO has warned him not to give so many. 

Indeed there is a theory doing the rounds that some referees are very reluctant to show two yellows one after the other – and certainly general observation seems not only to suggest this but that some playes are taking advantage of the fact, so that if they get one yellow they feel free to go in with a very strong tackle moments later, knowing the ref will let it go.

This is something we could do with more statistics on, but of course you know what these PGMO people are like – the stats simply are not there to help us make a judgement.   Indeed when Liverpool’s Jota was sent off for two yellows one straight after the other the Panel said the second foul was not worthy of a caution.

It all seems rather unsatisfactory.

12 Replies to “Should Manchester City have had fewer than 11 men on the pitch by the end?”

  1. Not forgetting that Martinelli got two cards in five seconds once; Tomi got a second yellow for taking eight seconds over a throw in following a limp first yellow and, without a doubt Xhaka would almost certainly have received a red for either of the Kovacic assaults.

    The PGMO are a disgrace. Yet all we hear from many fans is that VAR doesn’t work and should be done away with. It’s the damned officials that aren’t fit for purpose, not the system.

  2. Oliver has never sent a Manchester City player off. The one positive to come out of Oliver’s leniency is the fact that City fans were denied saying “you only beat us because we had 10 men”.

  3. Mikey,
    To emphasise your point about Martinelli being given 2 rapid consecutive yellows in the same sequence of play, I believe that I am correct in recalling that the referee concerned was, indeed, none other than Michael Oliver himself.!

  4. Not according to Danny Murphy they shouldn’t, and this is how he deemed to justify his bonkers opinion on MOTD:

    “……Murphy recognised recent refereeing decisions might support the case for a red. He didn’t back down on the specific call, though, defending referee Michael Oliver’s decision to leave Kovacic on the pitch.

    “I actually like what the referee’s done there,” the former Liverpool midfielder continued. “Not every tackle you miss should be a yellow. Michael Oliver’s a good ref and he’s from a tough part of the world so he knows what he’s on about.”

    “That’s the problem, exactly that, and that’s where people get frustrated,” he said when asked about refereeing calls in other games. “Recent events we’ve seen, that’s two yellows, but I’m glad he [Oliver] made the decisions he did.”

    Simply unbelievable. What an absolute crock of $h!t

  5. Mick

    “Oliver has never sent a Manchester City player off.”

    So that being said, will other referees take note of that, and think to themselves, ‘If I treat Man City with similar leniency, could I be offered these lucrative games in the UAE’?

    Possible isn’t it. Hardly likely to be offered such deals by City’s owners if they are giving them what they may perceive to be a hard time in the premier League are they?

    The more you look into this the more it stinks.

  6. @ Nitram
    The problem is that English referees are allowed to break their own rules/laws because they can with no consequences put upon them , each referee has a different agenda in how they view incidents . We all see incidents differently they all should be trained/taught to see the same thing in every incident but they don’t , it can only be their training . A sending off offence is a sending offence if the rules/laws state , what changes , a big trip a little trip , a little push a big push , a little grab of shirt or a big grab of shirt they are all fouls but seen differently , they shouldn’t be subjective but they are . Until all the referees are trained/taught to see the same incident the same we are going to have the big differences in home and away results along with yellow cards given out in every game .

  7. Steve Vallins

    “The problem is that English referees are allowed to break their own rules/laws because they can with no consequences put upon them , each referee has a different agenda in how they view incidents”

    This statement is perfectly true, but as to why it is true and what the solution is, I am not so sure. Getting to the heart of what the problem is, is I believe extremely difficult.

    In fact that is exactly what you suggest when you say:

    “A sending off offence is a sending off offence if the rules/laws state, what changes, a big trip a little trip, a little push a big push, a little grab of shirt or a big grab of shirt they are all fouls but seen differently, they shouldn’t be subjective but they are”

    And there-in lies the problem. The key would being ‘subjective’. You suggest they shouldn’t be, but they are.

    So what we need is a way of taking the ‘subjectivity’ out of the equation, and laying down hard and fast rules, or laws. But I believe that will never happen. The question is why will it never happen?

    Well, I’ve said it on here many many times, but again, this is how I see it. Subjectivity is at the very heart of how football is run in the Premier League. There is absolutely no desire to have the ‘Laws’ applied impartially across the board.

    Now my theory starts with what lies behind your statement that

    “The problem is that English referees are allowed to break their own rules/laws because they can with no consequences put upon them”,

    and whether that is even correct?

    Well, I believe it is actually incorrect, there are consequences. We have seen referees rebuked, demoted, suspended and even dismissed. But here’s the question. What lies behind these disciplinary actions? Well, ask yourself, what is more likely to get a referee in trouble?

    Is it:

    A) Failure to apply the Laws of the game in accordance with the rule book?

    B) Failure to apply the Laws of the game in accordance with how the media consensus currently wants them to be applied?

    I may be wrong but I have never know a referee get in to trouble for a terrible decision unless the media were up in arms about it. I’ve seen referees make diabolical decisions, but if the media don’t pick up on it we here nothing more. Referees, despite evidence to the contrary, are not stupid, they can see this.

    And that is my argument. The PGMOL does not hold it’s referees accountable for how they performed according to the Laws Of The Game, but rather accountable for how they performed according to the current wishes of SKY Sports, MOTD, Talkshite and the red tops.

    I 100% believe that when they have a big call to make they are more concerned about how their decision will be judged in the studio after the match than what the Laws of the Game dictate they should actually do. And who can blame them? Their job may depend on it because upsetting Gary Neville and Co is much more likely to see them punished than upsetting a few pesky Arsenal fans, or even Howard Webb.

    And that is where the enormous subjectivity of so many calls comes in extremely handy. Having such latitude with every decision is manna from heaven for a referee that seeks only to please rather than referee in accordance to the Laws Of The Game.

    Now don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t happen all the time in every game. It is also not going to be the only factor in how a referee performs. This UAE business for example must surely be having some impact? But, they are well aware of the media pressures on them, and it is my belief that pleasing them is their default when under duress on those big 50/50 calls.

  8. I agree with your comments re referees and I also couldn’t believe Danny Murphy’s take on the non sending off on MOTD 2 , surely someone has to pick his views up because it’s advocates cheating which is not right , again what you said it’s the media .
    To my knowledge only Mason has been dismissed and not through bad refereeing but dreadful VAR work but soon rehired , they are Teflon coated .

  9. They are indeed Teflon coated Steve, but I believe that is because, by and large, they play by the rules. Not the rules as laid down in the Laws Of the Game, but the rules as laid down by the media.

    By and large the media have a compliant lot, well versed in exactly what is required of them. Sometimes they get it wrong. According to Neville and Co at least, so they get a slap on the wrist, you know, just as a little reminder to get back on script.

    Oliver was once a very good referee, putting in one of the best refereeing performances I have ever seen in one of our cup ties at OT. What’s happened to THAT referee? He hasn’t suddenly forgotten how to referee, oh no, he’s just learnt how to keep the media happy. Alas for him, Sundays decisions were so bad even the media couldn’t bail him out of that one, although to his credit Murphy gave it his best shot!!!!!

    It’s part of the reason we have such a small group of referees. The smaller the number, the easier to control. Influencing 10 referees to do your bidding is so much easier than influencing 20.

  10. We expect Referees to have God like morals and principles, unfortunately rich owners have direct and indirect influence in the world of sport? Means that the poor match officials who are on minimum wage will probably not get any birthday or Christmas presents.

  11. It was fantastic to hear Webb come out and say, “we’ve taken steps” in respect of ensuring there is no future VAR debacle as happened in the Spuds/Liverpool game. (Shame the media didn’t bang on about the Brentford offside against us!!).

    Although the big question is what does “taken steps” actually mean. He didn’t say what steps, he didn’t say how this would rectify things, he didn’t say what sanctions would be taken against those who cocked up, and he didn’t say why they couldn’t do the same again (and if they did what punishments would be meted out).

    It the same old secretive, unaccountable PGMO mafia. Nothing will change but they’ve given a meaningless statement to the media so everything is now ok. Farce!

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