I hate to be “that guy.” I really do but the British media’s constant efforts to chalk Chelsea’s EPL campaign as the result of favor from match officials is bordering on insulting. Chelsea’s last three victories came against Manchester United, Bolton and Stoke City and in all three the Blues have come under critcism for calls that went in their favor. Pundits pointed out Drogba’s offside’s match-winner against Manchester United as referees giving the game to Chelsea but these same critics stayed silent on the possible handball of Federico Macheda or the obvious penalty on Gary Neville.
Sir Alex Ferguson, always quick to blame defeats on everything but his players, said “What I can’t understand is the linesman’s directly in front of it. He has no-one near him and he gets it wrong. A game of that magnitude, you really need quality officials and we didn’t get them today. It was a poor, poor performance.” On his last point Ferguson was correct, the officals were poor on that Saturday afternoon at Old Trafford but they were bad for both sides. The outcome was not determined by the men with the whistles and to imply otherwise is ludicrous. Who knows if Macheda would have even gotten that goal if it were not for the reckless pressure United was forced to apply with a two-goal defecit. It is overly simplistic to think that the outcome of the match would have been identical minus one goal. That’s not how the game works.
The following week Chelsea put in an admittedly flat-footed display against Bolton. Bolton had two handball appeals waved off, one against John Terry and the other against Didier Drogba. Drogba’s offense was obviously a penalty but the alleged offense against Terry seemed to come off the shoulder and not the arm. Columnists were infuriated with the apparant blue bias of the referees. “At the top, Manchester United and Arsenal can forget about the championship if Chelsea are going to survive such clear-cut handballs,” said ESPN columnist Harry Harris. Did Chelsea escape this game with a few generous calls? Probably. But what some people do not seem to understand is that handballs inside the box are missed more often than they are seen. Chelsea had a few claims to handballs themselves but were turned away because the offense is so difficult to see.
But the most egregious offense came during Sky Sports halftime analysis of Chelsea’s thrashing against Stoke City. Both analyists claimed that Soloman Kalou’s sliding rebound to put Chelsea up 2-0 was “a dangerous play that deserved a red-card.” Upon viewing the replay it’s obvious that Kalou got to the ball first and and it was the goalkeeper who lunged to make contact with the Chelsea player. The play resulted in Thomas Sorenson getting injured and that’s regrettable but in no way a sending off or grounds to wave off a clear goal. The commentators again cited big-club bias against the referees but made no mention of the obvious handball by Stoke in the first half.
If Chelsea manage to hang onto their slim lead atop the EPL and hoist the trophy on May 9 it will not be because of favorable treatment by officials. It will be because they played the best football over the course of the season. Clubs get victories they don’t deserve because of blown calls all the time. That will always be the case and incompetence by officials knows no biases.