Sport

A footballing week in review.

Despite there being no crowds, this has been a very good season.

The football season continues on as we are forced to watch from afar. It will be wonderful to be able to go to live football again whenever it is deemed feasible. But despite the continued lack of supporters at grounds, it has been a good season to watch. The top of the table has not been such a one-horse race as it was last season. Even before the enforced break last season, Liverpool had all but wrapped up the title and the run-in just confirmed what everyone already knew. Manchester City are back at the summit after a rather ropey start that had us all wondering what was happening. Liverpool have suffered from injury troubles all season but have also lost some of the momentum and application that served them so well last season. We’ve had seven or eight teams sitting at the top of the table this season and that has made the race for European qualification much more interesting to watch. Aston Villa, Everton, and West Ham have all put strong runs of form together and have put themselves firmly in the hunt for a European qualification spot. Chelsea and Tottenham are all also in the fight while Leicester have carried on their best performances of last season to maintain their recent high-flying form up at the top. Manchester United, meanwhile, have definitely improved their consistentcy but are still prone to a slip-up

It’s also an intriguing watch down towards the bottom. West Brom have not had the new manager bounce that they would have been hoping for when they decided to replace Slaven Bilic with Sam Allardyce. Scott Parker has been able to make Fulham a difficult prospect, usually able to get a draw, but they just have not been able to turn that into wins often enough so far this season. And while Burnley and Newcastle United are the teams immediately above the drop zone, there is a points gap and both sides have had a upturn in performances and results in recent weeks that could consign the current bottom three to Championship football next season. Sheffield United have only just started to point a run of results together that could see them crawl out of the relegation places but I fear they have left it too late to preserve their Premier League status. If they do go down, I hope they keep a hold of Chris Wilder as manager, because he has down brilliant work at the club, taking them from League One all the way to the Premier League. He also had a superb first season as a Premier League manager, while not spending ridiculous amounts of money and maintaining his distinctive style of football.

While we do not know when we will be allowed back into stadiums (I suspect it will not be until much later in the year), we can be satisfied that the season we are watching is at least a very good one. And long may it continue.

VAR had nothing to do with it. Mike Dean is just an awful referee.

How is Mike Dean supposedly the best referee in the country? He’s not the best, he’s the longest serving, which could be translated to ‘he’s been around too long.’ That was a ridiculous decision he made to send off Tomas Soucek against Fulham. Absolutely ridiculous. There was no violent conduct in the action at all. He wasn’t looking to hurt Aleksander Mitrovic, he accidently caught him with his elbow while moving his arm out the way. Mitrovic was repeatedly grabbing hold of it to keep a reference for the free kick that was about to come in. Another factor that Mike Dean and the VAR official Lee Mason seemed to ignore is the fact that Tomas Soucek is a good three or four inches, if not more, than Mitrovic, so his raising his arm at all would put it level with Mitrovic’s face.

There is a reason why there were no English referees at the last World Cup. If that is the standard of officiating, they didn’t deserve to go. Referees often get a hard time from fans and it is not an easy job, but this was a rank easy decision to make and even with the benefit of taking a look at the pitch-side monitor, Mike Dean came to that decision. Not unsurprisingly, West Ham have launched an appeal to get it rescinded as was Jan Bednarek’s red card in midweek against Manchester United, funnily enough given by the same referee and VAR assistant. This is really worrying for the game. Fans, players and managers were already confused and irritated by some of the rule changes and decisions earlier in the season, but this was a rank amateur incident to look at. Aleksander Mitrovic even went to speak with the referee to say even he thought Soucek shouldn’t be red-carded. Mike Dean has been at the centre of so many bad refereeing calls over the years, you do start to wonder why he is still employed as a referee. If he is one of the best referee England has, then god help us.

VAR is a tool. The referee still has to make the decision. VAR doesn’t make it for them. It is simply another resource for the referee to use to make sure that he is making the right decision. But so much is still up to official’s interpretation and that means that there is still more than enough room for stupid decisions like this one. Maybe the problem is not with VAR, but who is using it and how it is being used. After all, VAR is to help the referees embarrassing and making fools of themselves. But all they are doing at the moment is embarrassing and making fools of themselves. Lee Mason should have just said that there was nothing to see, it was clearly an accident. The game was nearly over anyway, they were well into added time when the incident occurred. It’s just embarrassing to see that kind of decision made in what is supposed to be one of the best, most exciting leagues in the world. Serious thought needs to go into the rules of the game, how they are implemented and who is implementing them. Or we are still going to be talking about appalling refereeing decisions for a long time to come.

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