Let’s face it: Zlatan Ibrahimovic shouldn’t have been red carded

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As I watched the replay of Tuesday’s Valencia-Paris Saint-Germain match (because I hit Celtic-Juve first), I was surprised to hear relatively little debate about Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s red card. The PSG star saw straight red and earned the corresponding suspension after this stoppage time challenge:

The two arguments on this:

Ibrahimovic went over the top of the ball, making this a reckless, unnecessary challenge. He made full contact in a way that could have hurt Andres Guardado, therefore making it dangerous. While that may not be a red card every time, referee Paolo Tagliabento was within his rights to show Ibra red.

If that argument sounds dispassionate, it’s because I’m not buying it. This is just Ibrahimovic stepping on somebody’s foot, and while it’s conceivable the game could evolve to the point where this type of cynical foul would be an automatic red, dismissing Ibrahimovic is disproportionate. We just don’t see red cards for that type of foul. There’s no reason for Ibrahimovic, in the moments leading into that action, to believe he’d see red for what he’d decided to do. For Tagliabento to dismiss him for it is unjust.

Within the wiggle room referees get to interpret dangerous plays, Tagliabento’s entitled to his interpretation. It’s not outright wrong, and it’s probably not worth making a big deal about. Even if he is wrong, Tagliabento is entitled to occasional mistakes. Unless this is type of decision is a pattern from the Italian official, it’s better to just chalk it up to the game’s natural variance. Just bad “luck” for Ibra.

Though you could argue Ibrahimovic’s play was dangerous because it could have broken some toes, that interpretation of danger (potential harm) is problematic. There are a number of more common, more dangerous plays that are allowed to transpire through the course of a game – plays that would never draw a red card. Almost any time a player goes to ground, he’s exposing his opponent to more injury than Guardado was exposed to. Then a player is second in the air to contest a header, he’s risks concussions for both himself and this adversary. Even when a goalkeeper goes to punch a ball, he often puts other players at risk with the follow through or his jump.

In each of those situations, players commit to “dangerous” actions because they know they’re allowed to. Game in, game out they play by a set of standards enforced by the officiating community, standards to which they’ve adapted their game. They know what will and won’t bring red cards, and they act accordingly.

Going into today’s match, the game’s conventions allowed for what Ibrahimovic did. At least, they didn’t call for Ibrahimovic to be dismissed for that challenge. At some point before Tagliabento’s whistle, that changed. And now Ibrahimovic will miss the return leg.

John Cena makes entertaining Premier League predictions

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We do not recommend putting any money on John Cena’s Premier League predictions for this weekend.

The actor and WWE star was the guest picker on the BBC site on Friday, and admitted his soccer knowledge doesn’t extend much further than Cristiano Ronaldo and a tour of Tottenham (he has a fondness for Spurs, it seems).

[ PL PREVIEW: Chelsea vs. Southampton ]

But his actual selections are quite amusing. From picking matches based on species to trying to anger his fiancee’s Arsenal supporting brother, Cena brought the goods.

Our favorites:

Why West Ham will win at Stoke: “Who doesn’t love a good ham? It provides you with nourishment, happiness and a sense of community. It is always served at a big family function gathering. I like West Ham. 0-1.”

Why Southampton will win at Chelsea: “From where I am from, in Massachusetts, Southampton is a pretty cool place, so I am going to have to pick them, only because of how it relates to the States.”

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Southampton

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  • Chelsea leads all-time 41W-28D-28L
  • Saints have points in 3 of 5 at Stamford Bridge
  • Southampton winless in four straight league games

Chelsea returns home following an emphatic away win to meet a Southampton side fresh off embarrassment at home (Watch live Saturday at 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Saints were battered 4-1 at St. Mary’s by former coach Claude Puel, while Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea rebounded from a loss at West Ham by battering Huddersfield Town 4-1 at the John Smith’s Stadium.

Conte was asked to compare Alvaro Morata to club legend Didier Drogba, as the Spanish striker has reportedly been studying footage of the big Ivorian.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

“They are two different players with different characteristics,” he said. “Didier Drogba brought history to this club and he’s a wonderful player, a wonderful striker because he continues to play. He’s a great striker, more powerful than Alvaro but Alvaro, don’t forget, has a lot of space for improvement. He’s strong physically, he’s a technical player and I see a great future for Alvaro.”

Chelsea still won’t have David Luiz available, while Southampton has no new injury concerns despite the recent schedule congestion.

What they’re saying

Antonio Conte on Southampton premonitions“‘My expectation is for us to suffer, I have this sensation, so we must pay great attention. When you play after a bad defeat, especially at home, there is great attention of the coach and the club because they don’t want to continue a bad run. They want to give a good answer against a strong team like Chelsea.”

Saints’ Mauricio Pellegrino on facing Chelsea: “We want to show our best version. Chelsea is a really difficult side but maybe we can find more space.  We have to do a really good game to have a possibility of winning, but hopefully after a difficult moment we can bounce back. In this club, we want to show we are committed to trying to be competitive, our energy and commitment to the club.”

Prediction

Saints are wounded, but Chelsea has the better depth and form. Charlie Austin or Sofiane Boufal may force a goal past Thibaut Courtois, but look for the Blues to pull out a 2-1 win.

FIFA suspends Brazilian soccer president Marco Polo del Nero

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has suspended Brazilian soccer federation president Marco Polo del Nero for 90 days while he is under an ethics investigation.

Del Nero has remained in power in Brazil despite being charged by American authorities with racketeering and money laundering in 2015.

FIFA says Del Nero has been provisionally banned from all soccer activities as formal ethics investigation proceedings are conducted.

Del Nero fled Zurich in May 2015 when FIFA colleagues were arrested, quit the executive committee of soccer’s governing body after missing meetings and was then indicted in the United States in December 2015. He has not been extradited from Brazil to face the charges.

Preview: How can Tottenham stop Man City?

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Can anyone stop Manchester City? Tottenham Hotspur will try this Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) with Mauricio Pochettino‘s men aiming to give the chasing pack some hope that City can be caught.

[ LIVE: Stream Man City v. Spurs

Pep Guardiola‘s men have won 15 consecutive Premier League games to stretch their lead atop the PL to 11 points heading into the busy festive season, but a visit from Spurs represents one of their toughest tests of the season so far.

Spurs currently sit in fourth place in the table but are 18 points behind City.

In team news Man City have no fresh injury concerns as Vincent Kompany could return after missing out at Swansea City in midweek, but John Stones remains out injured.

Tottenham will be missing Victor Wanyama and Toby Alderweireld through injury, while Davinson Sanchez serves the final game of his three-match ban.


What they’re saying

Guardiola on Man City going the entire season unbeaten: “It is not going to happen. We are going to lose games, it belongs to Arsene Wenger. Now what happens is an exception, it’s not normal what we’ve done. We’ll try to maintain it but we are going to lose games. It is important is to play better, that’s important. Records are OK but they stay there and one day they will be broken. We focus on the pitch and try to be better, make chances, concede few. I’m happy with the way we play – although I feel we can do much, much better.”

Pochettino on Man City’s incredible run: “They [Manchester City] are showing that they are not only the best in England but in Europe too with the Champions League. They are playing so well and deserve all the praise. It will be so tough. I think Manchester City deserve all the credit with what they are doing.”

Prediction

Spurs will prove a tough test for a rampant Man City squad and I expect Dele Alli and Harry Kane to cause plenty of problems for a threadbare City defense. 2-2.