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Talking Blue: Penalties and Offsides Flummox Managers As Manchester City Win At Everton

Blues Penalty At Everton Still Being Debated

Everton FC v Manchester City - Premier League Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Another trip to Goodison Park and another controversial penalty decision which, once again, went in favour of Manchester City.

In February 2022, Rodri’s infamous ‘handball,’ which struck his upper arm was ruled not to be handball by VAR, much to the annoyance of title rivals Liverpool, whose supporters are still in tears about it today.

However, on Wednesday evening, another handball decision went in City’s favour as Amadou Onana was judged to have handled in the area, allowing the blues to take the lead from the spot. Julian Alvarez duly dispatched the penalty to send the blues on their way to a 3-1 win, but the arguments have continued over the decision.

Onana’s hand was raised as Nathan Ake spun and shot towards the Everton goal. The referee pointed to the spot, after some deliberation, but should it have been given? Experts and pundits all agree that the spot kick was the correct award within the context of the rules of the game. The FA states that it is an offence if a player:

touches the ball with their hand/arm when it has made their body unnaturally bigger. A player is considered to have made their body unnaturally bigger when the position of their hand/arm is not a consequence of, or justifiable by, the player’s body movement for that specific situation. By having their hand/arm in such a position, the player takes a risk of their hand/arm being hit by the ball and being penalised.

The ruling is quite clear, although, what is considered to make a body ‘unnaturally bigger?’ Footballers use their arms for balance, to help them run and to get themselves into certain positions. Therefore, it is part of the game that arms are going to be in an unnatural position. Onana’s attempt at a block results in his arms extending, which is going to happen as he’s falling to the floor. Naturally, his arms react to cushion the fall. If you look at his left arm, that’s exactly what’s happening and his reflexes aren’t trying to make his body bigger - they’re trying to limit damage to his body.

In fairness, there’s nothing unnatural about it, but that’s the law of the game and, until that law is changed, incidents like this will continue to be punished. Unfortunately, this could be the difference between winning or losing a title, surviving or being relegated, and the FA must find a way to make this law clearer that is fair for all teams.

Are Officials Right Not to Flag For Offside?

This is another talking point that the game is struggling with at the moment - raising the flag when offside.

Officials have been told not to raise their flag in the event of an offside as it may be an incorrect decision that could deny a goal. Seems fair enough and it’s a rule that I agree with. Mostly.

If there’s any doubt in the assistant’s mind as to whether a player is offside or not, then they should allow play to continue. If a goal is scored, then it can go to VAR to make sure. Offsides can often be very tight calls so it’s not surprising that some officials often leave it up to VAR to decide.

However, there are two annoying aspects to this rule - the late flag and blatant offsides.

For some reason, officials have decided to let play continue, only to raise their flag later on. What is the point of that? If they weren’t sure five seconds ago, what makes them think it’s offside now? Those sorts of actions frustrate players and supporters alike - either call it or leave it to VAR, who check it anyway, so why bother raising their flag? In fact, why not have an additional signal from the assistant that signals to VAR that they aren’t sure and to check a possible offside? Is that too easy to do?

Some (not all) officials also use this ruling to not flag for obvious offsides. This is just ridiculous and ex-players have stated that, sooner or later, someone will get injured because an assistant didn’t flag to stop play.

And that happened last night.

Everton’s Beto was clearly offside when he ran through on goal and, although he was stopped by John Stones, the City man was injured in the process and was replaced by Josko Gvardiol just before half-time. Had the assistant flagged for what was an obvious offside, Stones would not have been injured in the resulting clash.

It’s about time that the FA instructed their officials to be more consistent in applying this law. We don’t yet know the extent of Stones’ injury but, if assistants don’t start doing the job they are paid to do instead of relying on VAR, someone will be seriously injured as a result. That will inevitably lead to a change in the rules.

But isn’t prevention better than a cure? It’s time the FA put player safety first for once.