Background image: Sanjiva Persad, CC BY 2.0
He won’t but I hope Jose Mourinho decides to remain in the Sky Studio rather than find a new club to manage. He still plays head games now and then, slipping in sly digs at former rivals, but is far more direct and honest when analysing matches from a cosy chair than responding to poor results in a crowded press room.
Jose put his foot down when studio host David Jones harped on Trent Alexander-Arnold’s first handball incident, playing up the narrative that Manchester City were hard done when Liverpool flew up the pitch, penetrated the box, then scored from Fabinho’s 25-yard laser inside the near post following a panicked clearance from Pep Guardiola’s makeshift backline.
I think we’ve talked about this enough. It’s a shame that such a good game is being ignored for this one incident.
Whatever you think of his massive ego and manipulative mind games, the Special One was right. He wasn’t having it when Jones, still raking the muck, asked if Claudio Bravo should have stopped the Brazilian’s heat-seeking missile.
Not that one.
It’s true the Chilean got a hand to Sadio Mane’s second-half goal and maybe should have kept it out but the opener was travelling on a Schengen visa; there was no stopping it.
It may take some time for Pep Guardiola to calm down and accept his squad wasn’t betrayed by Michael Oliver and VAR Paul Tierney’s combined non-call on either incident. Regardless, his explosion on the sideline after the second, in which he screamed into Mike Dean’s face and then to the heavens, “Twice! Twice!” was the most entertaining moment in the Premier League this season. It deserves a cameo on East Enders.
With a single word, albeit repeated, the City boss outdid Jurgen Klopp’s impassioned lament following the draw at Manchester United. The Red Devils surged up the pitch after Martin Atkinson ignored Victor Lindelof's charlie horse to Fabinho and Daniel James fed Marcus Rashford for that match’s opening score. Full disclosure: I didn’t expect to be proven right so quickly or so emphatically when I wrote the Reds would benefit from a similar call in the future. Honestly, you can't blink or life will pass you by.
If anyone deserves sympathy, it’s Vincent Kompany. The former City captain, seated beside Mourinho in the studio, sat glumly, his mental effort to pretend he was elsewhere written across his prominent forehead as plainly as the warning on an all-gender restroom door. Every time Jones turned to Mourinho, Graeme Souness or Roy Keane for an opinion regarding the incident, the reply inevitably centred on the Sky Blues’ poor defending. But the retired centre-half and rookie analyst whom Guardiola sorely missed on the afternoon made the most salient point. The ball deflected off Bernardo Silva’s forearm before finding Alexander-Arnold’s.
For Kompany, that meant play should have been whistled dead not once but twice before the action switched to the City third. Virtually everyone else dismissed the official Premier League explanation that TAA was too close to the ball to move his arm which was in a natural position. Even though the ball was already slowed by the first deflection and the right-back was two or three yards distant, the first judgment is neither clearly nor obviously mistaken. The second is, however. His arm was extended away from his body and moving up towards the ball rather than back or down away.
That said, no penalty should have been awarded. The new rules indicate that any goal should be disallowed if it derives from a handball by the scorer or a player involved in the buildup, in this case, Bernardo Silva. If any ball from the run of play had found the Liverpool goal, it wouldn’t count. Why then should a chance to score one from the spot be given?
On the second occasion, Alexander-Arnold was much closer to the play with less time to react and his arm at his side. No one other than the aggrieved City manager and his desperate squad saw anything in it.
The truth is City were horribly exposed at the back, mostly through injury's misfortune but also their manager’s stubborn pride. Three years later, Ederson stand-in Claudio Bravo hasn’t shaken off the form that made him the new Heurelho Gomes. Aymeric Laporte, like Vincent Kompany, was sorely missed on the day. To fully define the desperate straits City’s rearguard failed to navigate, so was Nicolas Otamendi. Add to that Guardiola’s refusal to play a healthy Benjamin Mendy despite Oleksandr Zinchenko and Laporte’s injuries, left the Sky Blues hopelessly outmatched on the flanks. It was a recipe for disaster.
Still, it was worth every penny to watch the Catalan make his way over to Michael Oliver and his crew post-match to shake hands and deliver the most insincere thank you since Fred bought Wilma a washing machine for their anniversary on the Flintstones.
Shortly thereafter, Jurgen Klopp arrived to complain that play should have stopped on the throw-in that led to City’s goal so he could insert Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the midfielder waiting with instructions to cover the space from which emanated the cross that eventually found Bernardo Silva. Instead, Liverpool still can’t produce a clean sheet from a Premier League match at Anfield this season.
It’s said you know a referee did a good job when both sides are unhappy. Premier League fans can still complain over VAR’s growing pains but there can be no denying that Michael Oliver cemented his place as the Premier League’s top match official in 2019/20, not if you want a match called fairly and impartially.
The problem is no one does. Managers, players and fans may say they do but, if we're being honest, none want the correct call made. They prefer the one that benefits their side.
While the Premier League hasn't sussed out a suitable protocol for when and when not to use the fifth official sitting in a dark room before a bank of monitors, they're getting there. Had a penalty been awarded on Alexander-Arnold's first handball, it would have been a righteous Klopp sarcastically thanking the match officials. Had the Liverpool player never touched the ball only for City to score, there would be complaints from one side or the other for the goal either standing or being chalked off due to Silva's handball. No one will ever be happy whether or not VAR gets it right.
Given time, however, the process will get it right far more than the two times that so enraged Guardiola.