An Eventful First Week in the Champions League

Matchday 1 of the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League is in the books, and we are not without refereeing discussion points after the first round of group stage fixtures. Here is a round-up of seven of them – videos or images of the incidents are linked in the respective heading.

PSG v Real Madrid – referee: Anthony Taylor (ENG)

Potential handball & penalty

I think Taylor was right to wave away this first-minute PSG penalty appeal. Eder Militao isn’t even looking at the ball and I have trouble making a convincing argument for his arm being in an unnatural position. Smart decision to play on.

Gareth Bale disallowed goal – handball

You wouldn’t have expected the English VARs to intervene on the first handball decision, but even they couldn’t ignore Gareth Bale’s handball in the lead-up to his disallowed goal. The laws are pretty clear in that any contact between ball and hand/arm that leads to a goal will be penalized, and VAR Stuart Attwell wasn’t really left with any other alternative but to intervene. Interestingly, Taylor did go check the screen himself, which, had it been a Premier League match, he would almost certainly not have done. It took him no more than about three seconds to see the handball, and he rightly ruled the goal out.

Lucas Vásquez disallowed goal – offside

The second half featured a second disallowed Madrid goal, this one for offside on Lucas Vásquez. I have to applaud the officials here, particularly AR2 Adam Nunn, who was spot-on in his interpretation of the call and execution of the flag. Vásquez doesn’t touch the ball, but his movement from an offside position clearly impacts the movement of the PSG defenders. Nunn delayed his flag until the play had finished, just in the event Taylor and/or Attwell had a disagreement – the decision was bang-on though, all in all brilliantly executed.

Chelsea v Valencia – referee: Cüneyt Çakır (TUR)

Francis Coquelin tackle

As far as the legitimacy of this Coquelin tackle was concerned, I’ve seen both extreme sides of the argument – many Chelsea fans will say it’s a red card, and naysayers will argue that Mason Mount is endangering his own safety by making a challenge in the first place. I don’t agree with either view. I think Çakır nailed it by showing a yellow card. Coquelin makes a play on the ball; the follow-through is reckless, and his studs are showing, but he doesn’t use excessive force and the point of contact on Mount’s leg is very low.

VAR-given handball & penalty

However unfortunate it may have been for Valencia defender Daniel Wass, his arm was outstretched and in an unnatural position, so the penalty was the correct call. I can understand Çakır not calling it in real time, since it happened so fast, but the VAR rightly stepped in and, after consulting the pitch-side monitor, Çakır agreed.

Napoli v Liverpool – referee: Felix Brych (GER)

Napoli’s controversial penalty

A lot of Liverpool fans were up in arms over this one, but I can’t disagree with the call. This incident is a prime example of slow motion footage exaggerating lack of contact and making it seem a lot more like a dive than it really was. Does the attacker drag his leg? Yes. Is he looking for contact? Also yes. But does that negate the trip? No. Robertson should know better than to dangle a leg out like that. The contact is minimal, but it’s a foul and it’s not something a VAR can reasonably overturn.

Borussia Dortmund v Barcelona – referee: Ovidiu Hațegan (ROU)

Potential Dortmund penalty retake

I’ve already written pretty much an entire article on the issue of goalkeepers not being penalized for being off their line on penalties despite clear video evidence that they are. I’m not going to rehash that post here, but my view hasn’t changed. The [lack of] consistency on these decisions is absolutely mind-boggling. This penalty should have been retaken.

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