This is getting silly now. It needs to stop. Eight minutes into Saturday night’s showpiece at St James’ Park, Pep Guardiola was on the half-turn in his technical area signalling furiously at Stefan Ortega. His words? Something akin to ‘get your gloves on lad, we need you’. Manchester City’s second-choice goalkeeper was required immediately: Ederson could not continue.
City’s No1 had been clattered a few minutes earlier by Sean Longstaff and then by Kyle Walker. There was no malice in the challenge; Longstaff was simply competing with Walker to tap in Alexander Isak’s early cross. Longstaff was successful and could do nothing to prevent subsequently colliding with Ederson, with Walker then crashing into his team-mate. It was brave, ultimately costly, goalkeeping.
But here is the twist. The cost was not actually a Newcastle goal. Because no sooner had the net bulged, up went the assistant referee’s high visibility Battenberg. Isak had strayed just beyond Nathan Ake – the fact he didn’t need to be offside will doubtless irk Eddie Howe – and Longstaff’s effort was correctly ruled out. Instead, the price was Ederson’s further participation.
Why though do we need to wait? Why is play not stopped earlier? It was a tight call, yes, but one that has been made hundreds of thousands of times since the Football Association introduced the offside law in 1863. It is everything those running the line train for. Before the introduction of VAR, before Stockley Park’s overseeing eye was involved, the flag would have been raised far earlier. And Ederson would not have even needed to move.
It first should be made very clear that this is not a criticism aimed at the official. He did exactly what he has been directed to. Since the start of the 2020/21 season – a year after VAR’s introduction – Premier League assistants have, where they believe an immediate goalscoring opportunity will materialise, been directed to initially keep their flag down. There is not even the old school soft signal anymore, the hand gesture to suggest all is ok. Only after the passage of play has run its course, do arms get thrown into the air.
Ederson felt the pain instantly and doubtless knew his game was over – Action Images via Reuters/Lee Smith
Manchester City’s title charge would be impacted if Ederson was to miss a significant amount of time – AFP/Oli Scarf
There is some sense in this. When the calls are close, and the technology is there, why not let things pan out? But then, what about the welfare of the players? Managers need little encouragement to bemoan the impact of a ridiculous fixture schedule – the last thing they need then is needless injuries, and that’s exactly what Ederson’s injury was. Likewise, Guardiola would doubtless point out, was the ankle knock that John Stones suffered when tackling Beto at Goodison Park in late December. He is yet to return.
For all the noise about City’s title defence being on the ropes, victory at Newcastle would take them within two points of the summit. Stones was integral to last year’s crown, while Ederson has missed just a dozen league games since his 2017 arrival. He has been near impeccable, a bastion of calm at the back, one of the original ball-playing goalkeepers. He is, like City, chasing his sixth title in seven seasons.
And so should Ederson be absent for any length of time, it might prove critical. Ortega is doubtless a decent goalkeeper, but the 31-year-old has spent most of his career in Germany’s second tier. A pair of Bundesliga campaigns owed to promotion with Arminia Bielefeld. He is, by the standards of the champions of just about every pot going, a back-up goalkeeper. Opponents will target him. His mettle will be tested.
There are few sides in the world who would not miss their first-choice goalkeeper. City are no different. In an era of profit and sustainability, there are plenty of other areas that take priority over someone who, in an ideal world, will see no meaningful action.
Roberto De Zerbi – who rotates Jason Steele and Bert Verbruggen – is the only Premier League manager who probably wouldn’t blink at such an absence. Perhaps Mike Arteta, too.
Guardiola will be hoping Ederson’s injury is not serious. At least January’s fixture list is kind. But please, will someone let the officials officiate the game?
Clear offsides must be given straight away
The PGMOL must use this incident as a catalyst to allow assistant referees to give obvious offsides
It was obvious that Alexander Isak was offside as soon as the ball was played over the top, yet play was allowed to continue and the Manchester City goalkeeper was unfortunately injured as he, Sean Longstaff and Kyle Walker collided when the Swede crossed into the middle.
We have good quality assistant referees in this country and we all knew it was offside. When the decision is as clear as that surely player safety and common sense must come first and play should be stopped. Players always run the risk of injury, but to potentially suffer a serious problem when there is no need is just terrible for the game.
If the decision is tight and there is doubt then I fully agree with the process, but this wasn’t one of those occasions.
The PGMOL do not have to seek agreement to make this change either, they can simply do so and inform managers and clubs of the change. I cannot see how anyone would disagree with it.
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