Premier League Monday Mixer: A weekend of unexpected EPL results is highlighted by Nemanja Matic losing his mind.
When Getting ‘Stuck In’ Goes Wrong
Chelsea lost some ground atop the Premier League on Saturday by drawing with Burnley 1-1 at Stamford Bridge. Branislav Ivanovic continued his impressive scoring season by putting the Blues up in the 14th minute before Ben Mee notched a late equalizer for the visitors. Though any semblance of a comeback story would be swiftly washed away by the uglier scenes surrounding the game’s turning point.
There’s an interesting discussion to be had around Nemanja Matic’s 70th minute red card, the aforementioned turning point of this match. As it happened, a 50-50 — maybe 60-40 — ball fell between Burnley forward Ashley Barnes and Matic. Barnes got to the ball first and played a side-footed pass beyond the Chelsea midfielder. However, rather than pulling his foot out after the pass, Barnes kept his foot in, following through on Matic’s fully planted left leg, connecting forcefully on his inner calf.
It was the kind of challenge that sometimes results in a gruesome leg-break, particularly when the tacklee’s leg is fixed into the ground. Thankfully, on this occasion, it didn’t. Upon the realization of what Barnes had just done, Matic, at that point seeing red, sprung to his feet and sprinted towards the Burnley player. The Serb shoved him to the ground and began castigating him. It was as visceral of a response as you’re ever likely to see on a football pitch and enough to earn him a straight red from referee Martin Atkinson.
As unsurprising as Matic’s sending-off was, most neutrals watching could understand his fury. The prospect of a snapped limb is not one easily reconciled, even for an unassuming offender. There’s a state of oblivious recklessness — the kind claimed here by Barnes — that’s almost worse than downright maliciousness due to its unpredictability. If Barnes is truly unaware of what he did, then what’s to keep him from repeating it?
Matic’s response, while frenetic, should ultimately be excused. He clearly took it to an uncomfortable place, but it should be acknowledged that he didn’t go overboard. No punches or kicks or headbutts or elbows (or, ahem, bites) were thrown. Considering the crime just committed on him, he was quite composed. Does that mean the FA should rescind his red card? Yes, absolutely. It was an honest, even honorable, reply to a dangerous, possibly career-altering tackle. I’m personally finding it difficult to fault Matic’s actions at all.
With that being said, Matic’s reaction to the card was a little bewildering in itself. After his initial attack on Barnes, the Serb retreated rather quickly to the dressing room without much discontentment. It was the usual response from a guilty individual who knows his sending-off was warranted. But considering the initial offense from Barnes and how threatening it was, you’d expect a more furious defense from Matic. If he indeed felt like Barnes was trying to break his leg, I’d have thought he’d still be out there steaming from his ears.
Jose Mourinho spoke on the matter post-match: “I can’t find the words to describe what that player [Barnes] did. I can clearly understand that football is about emotions and sometimes you lose emotions. Clearly Matic had reason to lose his emotions. What could be his consequence of his push for the other player? Nothing. The consequence for Matic could be the end of a career.”
The Chelsea boss couldn’t be more apt with his assessment of this situation. For Barnes to still be on the pitch after such a challenge — without even being cautioned, I might add — is ultimately a discredit to Atkinson, usually a decent referee in his own right (though he had a howler on Saturday, even without the Matic incident). But if Barnes doesn’t receive a retroactive penalty for such a challenge, and/or Matic doesn’t receive a pardon for his reaction (neither of which will probably happen), then the discredit will be further extended to the FA, and then to English football as a whole. Sometimes it can get messy when you’re trying to get things right. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.
Manchester City put the hammer down on Newcastle this weekend in a 5-0 drubbing at the Etihad. A brace from David Silva highlighted the encounter, while additional goals from Edin Dzeko, Sergio Aguero (p), and Samir Nasri sealed the Magpies’ embarrassment.
Every now and then, Manchester City enter a certain level of destructiveness that no other side in the PL has access to. You can call it “You’re In For A Long Night” mode. It usually results in 4-to-8 goals-scored and an unlucky mid-table club who end up leaving the Etihad feeling as if their souls had just been relegated to Hell. Although if Saturday’s match was any indication, Newcastle may consider the drop as a healthy alternative to having to visit blue Manchester again next year.
So often the key to City’s success lies in the boots of David Silva. The Spanish magician gave a career performance on Saturday, providing two goals and an assist on the evening, and generally dictating the match like an orchestral conductor. WhoScored even went as far as to award him a 9.99 match rating despite only playing 59 minutes. When the ex-Valencian’s boots are clicking, you might as well call him Dorothy.
This elevated level of play from Silva — as well as quality showings from Aguero, Dzeko, and Nasri — bodes well for City as they begin to close the gap on league leaders Chelsea. Manuel Pellegrini’s side is now only five points adrift of first with a squad healthier than they’ve been all season. Meanwhile, Chelsea just drew with Burnley and will be missing the growing influence of Nemanja Matic for the next three matches due to his sending-off. This is the part of the season where titles are either won or lost. For what it’s worth, the winds of favor seem to be skewing sky blue.
A Tail of Two Halves
Less than an hour after Tottenham and West Ham capped a 2-2 thriller in North London, Everton and Leicester City equalled that billing in, what felt like, half the time. A late Matthew Upson own goal snatched a point for Everton, who had allowed the Foxes to take a 2-1 come-from-behind lead in the second half.
Was the first half of this game even played? I’m not sure, because by the end of the 90, I could only recall what happened after the half. Anyways, here’s my regrettable synopsis/assessment of the opening 45: a bleh event so radically unconvincing that the 45 minutes that followed was always going to seem miraculous in comparison. So yeah, I’m not sure if the second half was truly as amazing as it appeared, but let’s operate under the pretense that it was.
Credit to both Roberto Martinez and Nigel Pearson, who recognized early on that the match needed an injection or urgency and quality. In fact, four of the six available substitutions for both managers were made by minute 62. Unshockingly, it was the players off-the-bench who resulted in the upshift of fortune for both sides.
For Everton, the introductions of Christian Atsu and Darren Gibson changed the entire landscape of their attack. From the 55th minute on, the Toffees had a wide outlet in Atsu and a player to find him in Gibson. Atsu, fresh off of his Golden Ball AFCON contribution for Ghana, provided the cross for Everton’s second goal. Gibson, considered by many to be nothing more than another Man United reject, displayed his true skillset, spraying Pirlo-like passes at-will beyond Leicester’s defensive line.
Likewise, the Foxes improved greatly upon the arrival of sub Jamie Vardy in the 62nd minute. His industry was particularly key in both of Leicester’s goals. Nugent’s 1-1 equalizer came on the end of a Vardy cross from the by-line, as did Esteban Cambiasso’s go-ahead 70th minute strike.
How that for special? A goal scored by an Argentine international with five scudettos, a La Liga title, and a European Cup to his name; and assisted by a 28-year-old who was playing non-League football just four years ago.