The play that could have decided the big Chelsea vs. Liverpool showdown, Sunday’s marquee Premier League match, happened less than 30 seconds into the contest.
Liverpool’s Sadio Mane went up for a challenge against Chelsea’s Cesar Azpilicueta, but he led with his forearm and elbow, making contact with the head of the Chelsea captain, who crumbled to the deck.
Referee Anthony Taylor was faced with a big early decision — no referee ever wants to have to send a player off less than a minute into a match — and he opted against the most drastic one. Taylor showed Mane a yellow card for reckless play instead of a red card for serious foul play for endangering the safety of an opponent.
“It’s a clear red,” Azpilicueta said after the match. “I don’t mind if it’s five seconds into the game. It’s the first action and it’s a clear red. [Mane] doesn’t want to challenge. He doesn’t see the ball. He just wants to hit with the elbow. I don’t understand.
“What’s disappointing is that this decision was clear and I watched the replay but I didn’t need this because in [real] life I knew it was a clear red.
“Of course, we’re getting these decisions against us and it could change a lot the way [course] of the game.”
What Thomas Tuchel said about Mane’s elbow
Mane stayed in and would go on to score the opening goal of the match eight minutes later, taking advantage of a Trevoh Chalobah misplay to put Liverpool ahead. That only served to heighten the outrage expressed by Chelsea after the match.
“I’m not a friend of early red cards and I hate to say it because I love Mane and he should always be on the pitch because he’s a nice guy and he’s a top, top, top player. But it’s a red card. I’m sorry, it’s a red card,” Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel said postgame.
“The elbow is in the face and it doesn’t matter if you do this after 20 seconds or after 20 minutes, it’s a red card,” he continued. “It’s hard to take in a game like this. It’s hard to take.”
Tuchel also pointed out how it was the same referee who officiated the first match of the season between the two contenders at Anfield Road. Taylor sent off Chelsea’s Reece James in that match for what he deemed as denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity for a hand ball offense on the goal line.
“If you remember the first game in Liverpool how quick the same referee was to give us a red card, how quick he was with that decision. And I said it kills a game,” Tuchel commented. “Would it kill a game if a player gets a red card after 20 seconds? Yes. But it’s a red card. I’m sorry, it’s a red card.”
It’s a non-call that left Chelsea bitter at match’s end, particularly because Taylor was not alerted by the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) to take a second look at it on the monitor on the grounds of there being a clear and obvious error.
The inconsistent use of VAR has frustrated Chelsea, which felt it should have had a penalty in its previous match, a 1-1 draw against Brighton, had the VAR instructed the referee to take a second look at a hand ball and a tripping of Christian Pulisic in the Brighton penalty area.
“If you put the elbow into the face of someone else, it’s a red card and nothing else,” Tuchel continued. “And if you don’t get it checked [by VAR] we end up in the same discussion like in the last game where we don’t check hand balls in the opponent’s box, where we don’t check penalties for us. To say it politely, it’s very unfortunate.”
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