New Season, Old Tactics

Corner Kick | 111/365

(Photo credit: mfhiatt)

In between validating team rosters, I tried to keep an eye on the Liverpool-Manchester United match on NBC Sports. The match was interesting on many levels. Coming in, Liverpool is off to a great start. Everyone is following David Moyes’ progress at ManU with Sir Alex gone.

Three minutes in, as Liverpool was setting up for a corner kick, I watched the grabbing, shoving, and jockeying for position in the PA that is common in the highest level matches. I remember thinking that some of the players we referee will be watching and mimicking this behavior. On the kick, Liverpool’s Sturridge is not so politely “helped” into the goal by a ManU defender. He recovered from this position to come back out and head in the goal – poetic justice. While a player cannot leave the field to deceive the opponents, Sturridge was not off voluntarily.

The lesson here is that we need to watch players who attempt the same type of “helping” having seen it on television. We must also be able to recognize when two teams mutually accept what otherwise are – by definition – fouls, allowing us to raise the bar on what is trifling for that day in that match.

We must also adjust when the two teams do NOT have the same understanding of what is acceptable/trifling. In that case, we will end up working harder and having more criticism from both sides. A team that believes the fouls it receives are not trifling will eventually take matters into its own hands. The cries of “don’t let her push you” and “push him back” will likely cause a less-skilled team to commit obvious fouls and then question why we are not calling it both ways.

In the 41st minute, ManU was attacking and a ball was cleared past the pushed up MU midfielders. Aspas (#9) was about to win it and break out with support and only the MU backs to beat. MU’s Carrick (#16) grabbed Aspas and pulled him off the ball, spoiling the potential counterattack. Even though the foul occurred eighty yards from goal, Referee Andre Marriner issued a Caution for the tactical foul. The lesson here is that we must always be asking ourselves “Why did that foul occur here and at this time?”. Just as advantage in the defensive third is unusual but possible, a tactical foul in the defensive third can also occur.

In the 75th minute, and interesting non-call sequence occurred which I believe was handled correctly for the EPL but which likely would have resulted in a foul call at our level, The question is what would the correct call have been? ManU’s Evra (#3) won a poorly cleared ball and began moving at the Liverpool PA. ManU’s flat-footed Henderson (#14) victimized by Evra began to give chase. Just as Evra reached a shoot or pass point, Henderson reached out with his left hand and grabbed Evra’s left shoulder. The slight torque he applied caused Evra to change his stride slightly. This grab took place out of sight of all officials and if seen likely would not have resulted in a call at this level.

At the same time as the grab, Liverpool’s Lucas (#21) is approaching Evra on an angle from the right rear attempting to make a tackle. Liverpool’s Johnson (#2) was approaching from directly ahead, also attempting to make a tackle. Evra, as a result of pulling away from the grab, had begun to lean towards the right, closer to the unseen Lucas. After Evra’s last touch, Johnson kicks the ball free, ending up in the path of Evra. Evra attempts to pull up and to the right just as Lucas’ arrives with his poor choice to tackle. Lucas slides into the back of Evra, who is then thrown into Johnson. All three players end up on the ground and both Evra and Johnson come up limping. No foul was called. As Yogi Berra might have said, it was a 50-50-50 ball. Or was it? Some options:

  • No call – players coming together fairly (in the opinion of the referee)
  • No call – too much stuff was happening and I could not sort it out (same result, wrong reason)
  • Foul on Johnson – easy to sell as everyone sees the attacker on the ground, blue is happy, blue parents are happy, but soccer fans are disappointed, as Johnson made a great, brave, fair challenge
  • Foul on Evra – after all, he ran into Johnson who just made the great challenge, red is happy, red parents are happy, but soccer fans are disappointed as Evra is doubly punished (he tried to avoid the collision AND he was fouled first!)
  • Foul on Lucas – it was his attempted tackle (he never got the ball) and resulting contact with Evra that caused Evra to hit Johnson with more force (likely a Caution also)
  • Foul on Henderson – had it been seen, as it was his tactical grab that set the dominoes in motion (likely a Caution also)

If a referee had been able to see and process all of this in real time, it is possible that the referee may have done the following:

  • Applied Advantage to the Henderson grab
  • Awarded a free kick to Evra for the second foul by Lucas
  • Issued a Caution to Lucas for the reckless tackle
  • Gone back to Henderson before the restart and either issued a Caution for the Unsporting Behavior or provided a stern talking-to

I find that studying sequences like this on television (gotta love Tivo) makes me a little more prepared for unusual sequences out on the pitch. Just as our players are studying the EPL on television, we referees need to study and continue to learn as well (if only to learn what they will be trying to pull next!). Have a great Fall season!..


About Dan Paolini

Soccer & Futsal Referee Assignor

Posted on September 1, 2013, in Lesson Posts and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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