by Luke Irelan-Hill

Not for the first time this season, the football on the field is not dominating the back pages of the newspapers. Worryingly it is only October.

Super Sunday yesterday should have been one of the best days of the football season. First we had Liverpool entertain their city neighbours in an attempt to win the early season bragging rights. This was then followed by Manchester United’s visit to Stamford Bridge to play league pace setters Chelsea.

The Merseyside derby was a fantastic advert for Premier League football and finished 2-2, yet it was the match officials that have found their way onto the back pages of the newspapers.

Meanwhile, in London, where Manchester United defeated Chelsea 3-2, it is the match referee Mark Clattenburg who is in the headlines. However it is not so much for his performance, but the allegations that Chelsea have made against the man in black.

Chelsea have made a formal complaint against Clattenburg, accusing him of using “inappropriate language” towards two of their players on Sunday. It is believed that racial language was also used.

So, what happened when and where?

Chelsea v Manchester United

Mark Clattenburg was appointed to the biggest game of the weekend as he is one of England’s and FIFA’s best match officials. However it was a surprise he was appointed to this game and not the Merseyside derby as Clattenburg is the Premier Leagues strongest disciplinarian and Liverpool v Everton clashes have the worst disciplinary records in English football history.

The first major decision in the game was when Ashley Young was played through on goal by Robin Van Persie. Young got control of the ball and moved goal-side of Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic. The defender caught Young, and after awarding the free-kick and checking via microphone with his assistant, Clattenburg dismissed Ivanovic. He had no option and there were no complaints.

It was the second dismissal that caused outrage amongst the Chelsea staff and players. The Spaniard appeared to be caught by Reds defender Jonny Evans but Clattenburg ruled he had dived and produced a second yellow card for Torres and dismissed him, to the obvious astonishment of Torres and and the fury of Chelsea. In real time it looked an obvious free-kick to Chelsea, but slowed down and from numerous angles the contact is not as obvious but is definitely there. Referees, at all levels, are told not to give a decision unless they are 100% sure; therefore Clattenburg must have believed there was no contact. Let’s remember he only gets one look. It was a very brave decision but also a very wrong decision and one he will not forget in a hurry. Arguably through Torres could have been sent off earlier in the game for a dangerously high challenge on Tom Cleverley which he was only cautioned for.

The third and final big decision of the afternoon was also incorrectly called. But this was not Clattenburg’s fault, but the blame will be attached to him as he is the head of his team. The assistant referee failed to spot that Hernandez game back from an offside position to knock the ball in the back of the net to give Manchester United all three points. In fairness to the assistant the view he had meant that he could not see Hernandez as there were three Chelsea player’s right in front of the small Mexican. Difficult decision but definitely wrong.

All-in-all the game was another fantastic advert for the Premier League, but it will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. Referee mistakes have caused controversy in the past and will continue to do so in the future, but it will not be these decisions that are worrying Clattenburg at the moment. It will be the investigation that has been opened against him today for his comments. But comment cannot be made on this until the investigation is closed.

Liverpool v Everton

Andre Marriner was the man trusted to take charge of a potentially explosive game and on the whole he handled it very well.

The main talking point was when the Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez was denied an injury-time winner after Everton had fought back from 2-0 down. The striker was at least a yard onside when the ball fell to him to fire home and give what Liverpool believed to be a vital three points. However they were eventually thwarted by the assistant referee raising his flag very late for offside. The controversy in this was that the assistant followed the ball to the goal-line, turned to head back up the field and then finally raised his flag after Everton appeals.

Besides this decision, which again the referee will be criticized for because it was a member of his team, Andre Marriner had a very good afternoon. His laid back approach goes down well with the players and he stays out of the limelight until such time that he needs to get involved.

The Future

Chelsea  v Manchester United have to meet again on Wednesday for their Capitol One Cup clash at Stamford Bridge. Lee Mason, a referee who usually avoids controversy, will be hoping for a quiet evening in a game that is going to be talked about over and over again before kick-off for all the wrong reasons. But for the good of football we have to hope that it passes without controversy and football is the winner on the night.

The next big clash in the Premier League comes on Saturday lunchtime at Old Trafford where Man United entertain Arsenal.

It is no real surprise to see that Mike Dean has been appointed as the man in the middle. Dean has been on the FIFA list for 9 seasons and has proven himself to be one of England’s top whistle blowers. His no-nonsense approach should work in a fixture like this and he is not afraid to make the big calls and it will take all his experiences which include an FA Cup Final to see the game through without any problems.

Dean will be assisted by Scott Ledger and Andy Garrett, two of England’s best assistants. Therefore the authorities have realised by appointing such a strong team how crucial it is to have a big fixture remembered for all the right reasons.