When Sheffield United began the 2019-20 Premier League season they were the favourites of many (including the bookmakers) to make an immediate return to the Championship at the end of the campaign. As we now know that didn’t happen, and they finished in the top half of the table in a very creditable ninth place, surprising a lot of teams along the way. This season has been a very different story, and they have collected just one point from their opening eight games. That came in a disappointing (for them) 1-1 draw at home against lowly Fulham. But that is exactly how our game against the Cottagers could easily have ended a fortnight ago! What a finish to a football match that was!
It got me thinking about the offside rule and also the law re fouls, and for a bit of lockdown reading I read through two of the laws of the game issued by the International Football Association Board through FIFA and also the FA. “Interesting” stuff and easy to see why they raise such controversy and discussion. Scott Parker was unhappy regarding our goal with Haller in an offside position, but was he committing an offence? The relevant point from the law (Law 11) is that a player can be penalised for offside if he is making an obvious action which clearly impacts on the ability of an opponent to play the ball. Parker’s point was that Haller affected the header of his defender which fell to Benrahma who very cleverly laid the ball for Soucek to calmly score. It becomes a subjective decision for the referee and is not a black and white situation. After the game David Moyes described the guidance as “not a good rule.” Scott Parker said that despite all the technical help we get, nobody really understands the rule in respect of interference. I agree with both of them. Fortunately for us, it fell our way this time (for a change!) and the goal stood.
Another aspect of the offside rule that continues to cause controversy is where you have offsides by a fraction of a centimetre, by a nose or an armpit, for example. A very simple change to the rule, as championed by Arsene Wenger earlier this year, was that if any part of an attacker’s body that can score a goal is in line with the last defender, they are not offside, even if other parts of the attacker’s body are in front. Effectively it would mean you have to have daylight between an attacking player and a defender for an offside offence to be committed. This would mean that more goals will stand as currently three times as many goals are being disallowed as reinstated following the VAR check, largely due to very marginal offside decisions. As DelBoy would say “you know it makes sense.” But have we heard any more about the proposal?
I am no fan of Leeds but the goal disallowed by VAR for offside scored by Patrick Bamford was a terrible decision in my view.
In my opinion we also have to try to remember why the offside rule was introduced many years before we were all born. It was to prevent goal hanging. Perhaps they should also restrict offside to the final 18 yards at each end of the pitch, instead of half the field? It would also stretch the play too, potentially making the game more entertaining.
And even after our goal in the 91st minute it almost went wrong when a penalty was awarded against us for the “foul” by Benrahma. In this case the referee seemed to decide that our player tackled or challenged the Fulham player and was careless showing a lack of attention when making the challenge (from Law 12). Once again a very subjective situation for the referee and not too dissimilar from Masuaku’s challenge on Salah; on both occasions the referee was (in my opinion) fooled by the “theatrical” plunge to the ground. But a penalty it was, although justice was done thanks to Lookman’s appalling attempt at the Panenka. How ridiculous was that? If you are taking a penalty just follow the approach taken by Geoff Hurst, Julian Dicks, Ray Stewart, or Mark Noble, my favourite penalty takers in my time following the team. Why try to chip the ball into the goal?
More lockdown reading; I’ve been looking through the Premier League statistics regarding penalty kicks. I have my own views about penalty kicks being awarded, as I think they are given far too easily. I believe that they should only be awarded if a goal looks likely when an offence is committed, otherwise it should just be a direct free kick even if it is in the penalty area. Too many are awarded (in my opinion) when there is no real goal threat. Around 83% of penalties are scored, so in most cases they lead to a goal whether the award is justified or not. Usually the home team get around 61% of penalty awards and the away team 39%. This season so far it has been very different. Of the 41 penalties so far, only 19 have been for the home side, and 22 for the away team. Perhaps the absence of home fans putting pressure on officials is a factor? Of the 41 awarded it doesn’t pay to be a team that begins with W – Wolves, West Brom and ourselves have yet to be given one. Claret and blue shirts doesn’t fare much better – Burnley are the only other team not to yet have one, and Villa have only been awarded one. Leicester top this table with 8! I wonder why? The most ever awarded in a complete Premier League season is just 106. We are on course to smash that total this time – at the current rate the final total will be approaching 200!
So we won the game against Fulham, and just about deserved to do so. The three points puts us into twelfth position in the table after eight games with 11 points, a very good return from a difficult run of fixtures. Sheffield United can also claim that they have faced many tough opponents with their home defeats when facing Wolves, Leeds and Manchester City, and away losses at Villa, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea. Five of those seven defeats have been by the odd goal. So we should not be complacent in this game. The Blades are not world beaters but potentially a better side than the table would suggest.
Last season we drew 1-1 in the home game against Sheffield United, and in the corresponding game at Bramall Lane we also scored a late equaliser to make it 1-1, before being “robbed” of the goal by one of the worst examples of how the handball rule was interpreted when the ball brushed Rice’s arm in the build-up. In theory they have made changes to the handball rule (also covered in Law 12) this season, but having read the Law (I know how to enjoy myself!) I can see why the officials’ job is so difficult when trying to interpret it. It still needs work to make it fairer and easier to understand.
I really can’t see any need to change the team unless Antonio is fit, in which case I would have him in the side straight away. The general consensus was that Haller had an improved game against Fulham, but the system we play doesn’t suit him. Personally if Antonio is not yet ready to return I would even consider replacing him with Benrahma, but I think the manager will stick with Haller. Unlike a number of fans on social media I am a big fan of Fornals (although not in front of goal!). I think he adds so much energy to our midfield in addition to being a threat in the creation of goalscoring chances. According to many, his place is the most under threat from Benrahma. I reckon that our Algerian recruit will be a terrific asset but it may be a little while before he commands a place in the starting eleven. But once there I don’t believe he will easily be left out.
It looks as though the use of five substitutes rule is likely to be re-introduced, which makes the game a little like rugby union in that respect. With a fully fit squad we have enough players to come off the bench and make a difference in games. But as the season progresses, too many injuries and the squad would begin to look a little thin. It’s good to read that Dawson has made a positive impact in training, and alongside Diop we seem to have decent cover at centre back at present. I’m looking forward to the game which kicks off at 2pm on Sunday. Have we had a 3pm Saturday kick off yet? I find it interesting to note that we are favourites to win an away game for the first time in ages. We are around 7/5 to win the game with the Blades around 2/1. I don’t think that this will be an easy game but hopefully the confidence gained from such a promising start to the season will enable us to (at least) pick up a draw. I’ll go for a win by the odd goal. What are the chances?