Quarterfinals of Champions and Europa League are over, an incredible week of football with many emotions is coming to an end. What did we learn in terms of refereeing? A short analysis with a special focus on Real Madrid - Juventus and Manchester City - Liverpool incidents.
"Always expect the unexpected", this is a very common motto among referees all over the world, you join a pitch, starting a game and you don't know what you are going to face. The same happened on this week, with some incredible comebacks in European cups, by some teams which had lost the first leg and even in a blatant way. The most impressive comeback has been surely managed by AS Roma, the Italian team has eliminated Barça, after having lost 4-1 the first leg. Juventus were about to make the same exploit but they didn't manage it, following a late penalty assigned by the English Elite referee Michael Oliver. The English derby between Liverpool and Manchester City has been unluckily affected by a clear refereeing mistake. A regular goal was disallowed for a wrong offside decision. The tie between Bayern and Sevilla is surely the least discussed game.
Also in Europa League there have been some big surprises. Austrian team of Salzburg has eliminated SS Lazio from Italy, after having lost the first leg 4-2. Olympique Marseille has managed a comeback after a 1-0 loss in first leg as well.
So, what did we learn in terms of refereeing? My first answer to this question is: a game will be never difficult or easy before the start for the referee. Even in case of a first leg with a clear win by a side, there will be always chances to see something unexpected. Under this point of view, this could mean that at this level of European competitions it is impossible to make "experiments" for new referees or young referees who have to make experience. If you have a reliable pool of Elite officials, you will surely prefer them.
UEFA Referees Committee has made a very surprising decision by appointing Michael Oliver, new Elite referee, who had made his CL KO stage debut only a few weeks ago. This was a very particular and special case. So far, we never saw a referee appointed for a CL quarterfinal second leg as second game ever in KO stage in the same season. The signal of a big trust by committee, but also the need of having a top official from England, already used to officiate some top clashes. This was very likely the idea of committee. On the pitch, Oliver has been surely good. He has controlled the game without big issues until the last minutes, in which a more than crucial incident has occurred. With the score being 0-3 and Juventus hoping to play at least Extra Time, a penalty was whistled in the last minute of added time, for a challenge by Benatia from Juventus on Vázquez (Real). Oliver, without hesitation, has pointed the spot. Hence, an incredible reaction by Juventus players, especially from Buffon. The latter has attacked the referee by repeatedly pushing him. This was the reason of a straight RC shown by the English official. The penalty is in my opinion a supportable decision and Oliver can be absolutely backed without doubts, however, after having analyzed everything, I'm convinced that appointing the young English Elite for this game has been a mistake by committee. The "crucial mistake" in my opinion comes from this choice and not from what has happened on the pitch. Indeed, I think that another referee would have had a different appearance, and also players on the pitch would have accepted his decision, What I didn't like is that many players from Juventus felt the right to do what they did because Oliver looked to be young and not so experienced at this level.
Therefore I think that committee should have guessed that something was possible to happen. We must say it was the worst scenario we could have imagined, but unluckily it happened.
Michael Oliver will recover for sure, but I think he was put too early in such a game, without the needed experience and without the chance to react.
In Manchester City - Liverpool there was another situation that helps us in understanding how much difficult is the life of a referee on the pitch. You can take many and many correct decisions starting from the first to the last minute of the game but you can just miss a detail, and this can become crucial. This, unluckily, happened to the Spanish crew held by Antonio Mateu Lahoz. The Spanish had to face a very challenging game from the early minutes. He showed to be very strict in terms of dissenting behaviors, booking some players for this reason. Also, he played on following some penalty appeals. These decisions are always supportable and we all know how often they happen on the pitch. Nevertheless, in the last minutes of first half, a regular goal scored by Manchester City, for the possible 2-0, was annulled, following a wrong decision taken by the officials. The Spanish crew missed the author of the last touch, so when AR1 raised his flag for offside, nobody was able to help him in changing the decision. Mateu Lahoz was not in the best position, but he has in my opinion responsibility in terms of "full team", maybe even more for AAR1 Del Cerro Grande who had a frontal view, and with a minimum of attention during the key moment, he could have spotted the last touch. This is for sure a pity, and the lesson we can learn from this incident is the following: never lose the visual control of the ball, the player who is playing it, even a distraction of one second, can bring many problems. This happened in Manchester. This should have been avoided at this level, and we all agree, but can we blame all the officials so much? In my opinion, not at all. We are all human and we make mistakes, that's not a justification for everytihng, but for sure mistakes will always happen, as we are not perfect. So what is the solution? You can easily guess that top football needs top referees, but also, if available, top technology to help them. Mateu Lahoz himself would have been the first happy person with the chance to call a VAR review for this incident. So, this is my opinion, at this level, with so many interests and a big importance of the competitions, we can't go on in this way, when the same referees themselves would be more than content to have such tools. Their authority wouldn't be undermined, rather, enforced.
Coming to a short analysis about the other games: in my opinion Turpin had a negative evening after some good performances, as some readers reported on the blog, he looked even a bit tired, after having officiated many games at high level in recent times, with good performances. However his outing was not so poor and I think that in the overall context, his KO stage is still very positive. William Collum in Bayern - Sevilla has faced some important decisions, almost all the ones he took are supportable.
In Europa League, good job by almost all officials, if we except maybe only one or two situations.