Enough is enough: The Premier League needs to expand officiating personnel

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This weekend was abysmal. This weekend was ridiculous. This weekend, quite frankly, was a circus.

When Rebecca Lowe, Robbie Mustoe, and Robbie Earle are forced to drum on about 18 different penalty decisions following exciting, top-four battles with intricate matchups and fascinating tactical clashes, the game of soccer has devolved into a farcical joke that panders to the lowest common denominator. Truth is, things have been careening towards this inevitable end all season long.

It’s clear to everyone that with a new age of technology has brought about a new age of accountability for officiating, and thus the standard of refereeing has reached the point where one person is no longer capable of doing the job. It’s just not possible. With immediate television replay, hundreds of camera angles, and countless new gadgets of analytical technology, it’s possible to perform open-heart surgery on a referee’s 90-minute performance. But the officials don’t have those tools at their disposal, and to hold them to the same standard is ridiculous.

This Premier League season has been marred by countless decisions that may appear in person to be a difficult decision, but for television viewers who benefit from endless replays and enhanced camera zoom, are clearly incorrect. And yet here we sit, completely ignoring a monstrous problem hoping that things will change so long as we ignore it.

I’m sure you’ve heard the definition of insanity. The elephant in this room has gone insane.

Jose Mourinho may be annoying, but he’s right (to an extent). There’s no “campaign” against Chelsea, they’ve just happened to catch the brunt of what has been a horrific year for refereeing. Don’t listen to Mike Riley, the PGMOL is either delusional, waging a losing PR war, or both. Every weekend it gets worse, with clear decisions proving mind-bogglingly impossible for

The use of technology in the middle of games is out of the question. Nobody wants to stop the flow of a game for officials to look at instant replay. It’s just not feasible, and it’s just not practical.

The answer to our problems is to add referees. The fact that we still ask one lone official to cover an entire soccer pitch is quite frankly ridiculous. Basketball uses three officials to cover a much smaller court. Football uses anywhere from five to eight. Yet in soccer, we’re still stuck with one, plus whatever the linesmen feel like adding, which sometimes isn’t much. Here’s where the linesman was on the potential Simon Mignolet handball today:

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He’s so far behind the play, there’s no good angle to make an accurate call. And people want to tell us extra officials wouldn’t help? How is the linesman that far back? Because he’s trying to concentrate on 800 things at one time.

Look, officiating is an impossible task. Asking humans to be inherently flawless is a losing battle, always has been a losing battle, and always will be a losing battle. So why are we setting the best in the world up to fail, and then publicly humiliating them when they do on a weekly basis? Isn’t this ludicrous? We’ll never get a perfectly officiated game. What we can do is be reasonable.

The Premier League happens to be one of, if not the most visible soccer league in the entire world. English referees are at the top of the game. Martin Atkinson is easily one of the top referees in the entire game, and yet he looked utterly lost this weekend in the process of essentially handing Burnley a point against Chelsea.

Don’t think it’s that bad? Let me help you. This was called offsides. Jan Vertonghen was called offsides on this. In his own half. And everyone on the officiating staff was cool with it.

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So let’s please help these poor souls out. Sure, there would be a feeling-out period of time which would be weird. It would be awkward. The referees would have to get used to working together rather than working on their own. The players would need to adapt to where they should expect calls to come from. But why are we so opposed to change when it clearly would serve the game better?

Here’s my best attempt at a workable system. If you feel you have a better one, by all means let’s hear it. This is an open forum, a positive discussion to better the game.

  • It would be a combination of the basketball and football refereeing systems. Your head official remains in the center of the pitch. He and only he can issue cards, and he would preside over all official discussions. His main responsibility would be the center of the pitch.
  • There would be one official assigned to each penalty area. They would be positioned next to one of the goal posts standing out of play. They would be allowed to whistle any fouls in or out of the penalty area they see, but their primary responsibility would be to watch the penalty area. For any foul they believe to be bookable offenses, they would consult the head official who would be instructed to trust his coworkers unless he is 100% certain he must overrule their judgement – same as in the NFL. Penalties are almost always game-changing calls, why are we asking referees standing on the midline to suddenly follow a long ball forward, and then make a call when 30 yards behind?
  • The linesmen would stay in their usual areas, and could make foul calls near the touchline, but their main duties would be to monitor offside calls. With the added officials in each final third, their responsibilities to call fouls would be alleviated, allowing them to focus on making the hardest call in all of sports.

Is this really too much to ask? It’s not, and it works. Does adding a pair of referees really cause so much chaos that we still have yet to even make such a proposal? The mere fact that a proposition such as this feels rebellious itself is an issue. Unfortunately, this probably would be met by heavy opposition at the higher levels at first. But why? It only took 140 characters for a smart person to sum it up:

Officiating is hard. One wrong call can not only change a game completely but also overshadows the other 99 the referee got right. One out of 100 isn’t too bad, right? Wrong, when that call means Nemanja Matic is sent off instead of Ashley Barnes. Would Martin Atkinson have been in better position to see that ghastly tackle had his responsibility in the final thirds been lifted? Would a penalty-area official have seen Joe Allen chop down Filip Djrucic? Probably. Nay, most likely.

Case in point: the Brazilian Serie A uses a system very similar to this, and it works. In a game last year down the stretch, with Palmeiras looking to avoid relegation, they earned a crucial penalty for a clear handball in the box. Despite standing right next to the incident, the referee didn’t give the decision for whatever reason, but with an additional official standing next to a goal post, the penalty was given, and Palmeiras earned a point. Watch at 2:00 in this highlight package:

We will never get a perfect system, and yet we continually expect one. So what’s wrong with getting as close as possible? Officials will always get decisions wrong, but enough is enough. Let’s stop spending week in and week out bashing those brave enough to embark on an officiating career, and instead let’s extend them an olive branch. Everyone wins. Yes, even Chelsea.

Hertha Berlin slams racist abuse of under-23 player Ngankam

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BERLIN (AP) Hertha Berlin has condemned apparent racist abuse of its under-23 player Jessic Ngankam from Lokomotive Leipzig fans during their fourth-division game on Friday.

Hertha says on Twitter that, “Ngankam was subjected to racist hostility during the game against Lok Leipzig. As a club, we are completely behind Jessic . The incident was also noted in the match report and a preliminary investigation has since been launched by the league. Lok Leipzig have already given their own statement on the incident. (hash)notoracism”

Hertha executive board member Paul Keuter says the club should have reacted sooner to the alleged abuse, “but nobody should doubt our commitment against racism.”

Hertha player Jordan Torunarigha wrote on Twitter the club is “100% against racism and one shouldn’t argue over why my club is just giving a statement now.”

The 19-year-old Ngankam, who is black, told broadcaster MDR that he was targeted with monkey chants by some fans in the visiting supporters’ block and that he was called an “ape” by an opposing player.

“Of course you’re trained not to react or show emotion. But it still hits you,” Ngankam told MDR. “Insults are unfortunately an everyday occurrence in football, and I can put up with them. But racist abuse is a no-go.”

Lokomotive criticized the abuse on its website, where it reminded its own fans that it has players within the club with roots in 32 countries.

“Only two colors interest us – (club colors) blue and yellow,” Lokomotive said. “Racism has no place among us and everyone knows that! If there are still people who call themselves blue-yellow fans and can’t comprehend that, then it must be clear that (Leipzig district) Probstheida is no place for them.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Ciaran Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP

Champions League permutations: Who needs what?

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Here’s a quick reminder of how many teams from each group have already reached the last 16:

Group A: Paris St-Germain (winners), Real Madrid (runners up)
Group B: Bayern Munich (winners), Tottenham (runners up)
Group C: Manchester City (winners)
Group D: Juventus (winners)
Group E: None
Group F: Barcelona (winners)
Group G: RB Leipzig
Group H: None

And here’s what teams in each group need to do to advance:

Group C
Shakhtar Donetsk will reach the last 16 if they win at home against Atalanta, while both Atalanta and Dinamo Zagreb can still reach the last 16 with wins.

Group D
Atletico Madrid will secure their spot in the last 16 if they beat Lokomotiv Moscow at home, but if they draw or lose and Bayer Leverkusen win at home against group winners Juventus, the German side will go through.

Group E
Red Bull Salzburg will reach the last 16 if they beat Liverpool at home, while the reigning UCL champions need just a point to make it to the knockout rounds. However,  if Liverpool lose they will be out unless Napoli lose at home to Genk too or if Liverpool score four away goals or more and only lose by one goal (eg a 5-4 loss) combined with a Napoli defeat they will go through. Napoli need a point in their final game at home against Genk to reach the last 16.

Group F
Inter Milan will make the last 16 if they beat Barcelona at home but if they don’t win then Borussia Dortmund will go through by bettering Inter’s result. Dortmund host Slavia Prague at home.

Group G
Leipzig have already qualified and will finish top of the group with a win. Zenit will reach the last 16 if they win away at already eliminated Benfica, while Lyon can qualify if they better Zenit’s result from the final game.

Group H
Chelsea know they will reach the last 16 with a win at home to already eliminated Lille. Ajax only need a draw to make the last 16, while Valencia need a win at Ajax to advance. Chelsea will also reach the last if they draw against Lille and Ajax beat Valencia.

Champions League score predictions: Matchweek 6

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The sixth and final matchday of the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League group stage is here, and two of the four Premier League clubs needing to avoid defeat to go through.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Fans of Liverpool and Chelsea will both be sweating ahead of their group stage finales.

Below we predict the scores for all 16 UCL games taking place over the next two days, with Tottenham heading to Bayern Munich able to rest players,  while reigning champions Liverpool head to Jesse March’s Salzburg needing a draw to advance but the hosts will go through with a win.

As for Chelsea, they host Lille needing a win to secure their route to the last 16 and a draw could be enough if Valencia lose to Ajax, while Man City travel to Dinamo Zagreb already confirmed as group winners.

Feel free to make your own predictions in the comments section below, too.


Tuesday

Group E
Red Bull Salzburg 3-5 Liverpool
Napoli 3-1 Genk

Group F
Borussia Dortmund 3-1 Slavia Prague
Inter Milan 2-2 Barcelona

Group G
Lyon 2-1 Leipzig
Benfica 0-2 Zenit

Group H
Chelsea 1-1 Lille
Ajax 2-2 Valencia


Wednesday

Group A
PSG 3-0 Galatasaray
Club Brugge 1-2 Real Madrid

Group B
Bayern Munich 3-1 Tottenham Hotspur
Olympiacos 3-1 Red Star Belgrade

Group C
Shakhtar Donetsk 1-3 Atalanta
Dinamo Zagreb 1-3 Man City

Group D
Bayer Leverkusen 2-2 Juventus
Atletico Madrid 2-1 Lokomotiv Moscow

MLS teams learn opponents for CCL last 16

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The draw for the last 16 of the CONCACAF Champions League took place late Monday and some intriguing clashes have been set up to kick off the knockout rounds.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

2019 Supporters’ Shield champs LAFC face Liga MX’s Club Leon, while NYCFC fave San Carlos from Costa Rica, 2019 MLS Cup champs Seattle Sounders square off with Honduran side Olimpia, the Montreal Impact face Costa Rica’s Saprissa and Atlanta United also have Honduran opponents in Motagua.

Fans of MLS teams will not need reminding that Liga MX have dominated this competition, with a team from Mexico winning this competition each season since 2006.

Below is the schedule in full for the knockout rounds of the tournament, which begin in mid-February.


2020 CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 schedule

Leg 1: Feb. 18-20; Leg 2: Feb. 25-27. First team listed hosts Leg 2.

  1. Atlanta United (USA) vs. Motagua (HON)
  2. Club America (MEX) vs. Comunicaciones (GUA)
  3. Cruz Azul (MEX) vs. Portmore United (JAM)
  4. LAFC (USA) vs. Club Leon (MEX)
  5. Tigres UANL (MEX) vs. Alianza (SLV)
  6. NYCFC (USA) vs. San Carlos (CRC)
  7. Seattle Sounders (USA) vs. Olimpia (HON)
  8. Montreal Impact (CAN) vs. Saprissa (CRC)

Quarterfinals

Leg 1: March 10-12; Leg 2: March 17-19. Winner of odd-numbered Round of 16 game hosts Leg 2.

  • Winner 1 vs. Winner 2
  • Winner 3 vs. Winner 4
  • Winner 5 vs. Winner 6
  • Winner 7 vs. Winner 8

Semifinals

Leg 1: Apr. 7-9; Leg 2: Apr. 14-16. Hosting determined by performance in prior rounds.

  • Winner 1/2 vs. Winner 3/4
  • Winner 5/6 vs. Winner 7/8

Final

Leg 1: April 28-30; Leg 2: May 5-7. Hosting determined by performance in prior rounds.

  • Winner SF1 vs. Winner SF2