Kevin Affleck gets his teeth into the weekend's big talking point...
You’d forgive Daryl Janmaat for feeling a little confused.
He’s been making a conscious effort to get much tighter to his man after he allowed Wilfried Zaha too much time and space to create two goals in a crazy finale at Selhurst Park in December 2017. He visited the issue again after Luciano Vietto did the same to him at Craven Cottage and then probably thought he really better raise his game further still after Étienne Capoue admonished him at full-time for turning his back for Heung Min-Son’s equaliser at Wembley.
He was, as a result, splendid at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, showing the sort of form that saw Louis van Gaal pick him as the first-choice right-back in the Dutch team that finished third at the 2014 World Cup. Janmaat was as good as he was in the 2-1 home win over Spurs, if not better.
In the blink of an eye during the first period on Saturday, he flicked one dangerous corner away, combined well with Kiko Femenía during one flowing move down the right, held up Raheem Sterling so Christian Kabasele could tackle him and then produced the intervention of the match to slide in and block Sterling after the England winger had streaked clear. It was the sort of highlights package you’d show to any aspiring right-back.
“I have to say, in the first half especially, he played, very, very well,” said Ian Wright on Match of the Day.
With the incidents against Zaha and Vietto still very much in mind, he was touch tight to Sterling again at the start of the second period, aware that one lapse could allow the road-runner of a winger in on goal. He was there when Sergio Agüero chested a ball into the path of Sterling down City’s inside left channel. And yet, and here comes the killer bit, the bit where he is entitled to question what the coaches are telling him, he was better off giving up on the ball, risking the wrath of his coach and teammates and leaving Sterling to touch it first and go in on goal. Then, Sterling would have been flagged offside, no questions would have been asked and play would have restarted with no fuss whatsoever. Move on, nothing to see here.
The problems started when Janmaat made a challenge, which his instincts as a defender will have told him to do. This is what caused the confusion for referee Paul Tierney. It’s why he overruled his assistant Andy Holmes. But Janmaat's touch should have been rendered irrelevant as Sterling was active, interfering and, most crucially, two yards offside when Agüero played him in.
Plenty waded into the debate over the weekend, but Jermaine Jenas probably nailed it in his analysis on Match of the Day. “He’s offside the minute he goes towards that ball,” he said. “That goal should not stand. My biggest worry is that the referee and the linesman have got a combined story and yet they’ve still got it wrong.”
Perhaps liberated by being miles away in a studio in Qatar for beIN Sports, Sam Allardyce was the most forthright of all the pundits. He really cut loose. “There is nothing to discuss, it’s offside,” he said. “It’s just creating controversy we don’t need in the game. This is an absolute nonsense. It’s clear Sterling is making a run for the ball. It completely shattered Watford. The referee has made an absolute howler of an error.”
Allardyce felt the decision opened up a wider debate about what he feels is clear bias towards the big boys. Watford, remember, were also denied a clear penalty at home to Liverpool.
“What would the referee have done at the other end if Watford had scored that goal? No chance [it would have stood]. They’d have gone, ‘It’s offside, let’s get on with it.’ They are swayed by the crowd and the size of the game.”
That’s something Technical Director Filippo Giraldi will no doubt bring up with the Premier League liaison for match officials this week. Tierney has apparently held his hands up afterwards, the Professional Game Match Officials offered an apology and even Pep Guardiola said sorry, but that was no use to Javi Gracia. The damage had already been done. His side had the rug pulled from underneath them and their game plan had been firebombed.
“It had a massive impact,” said Stephanie Houghton on BT Sport. “They played so well in the first half, denied City chances and to concede a goal like that, so soon after, it’s no wonder he [Gracia] sounded downbeat. All the planning he had done all week went to shreds.”
It says much about the state of the offside law right now that Ben Foster asked on Twitter within 15 minutes of the final whistle if anyone knew if the goal was offside. Sterling admitted he “didn't know quite what the issue was” when speaking to Match of the Day. “It’s madness,” said BT Sport anchor Jake Humphrey. “You had Raheem Sterling trying to explain the law to Andre Gray.”
Gary Lineker waded in on Match of the Day and believes “VAR would have sorted that out, I would imagine,” but the video assistant referee made such a hash of Manchester United’s winning penalty against Paris Saint-Germain that it’s difficult to have any faith in that system, either. “Starting to see what a massive change #VAR will bring,” tweeted Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish. “Lesson 1: get near penalty area, smack ball as hard as you can towards arms.”
Besides, the introduction of VAR next season will then make it difficult to compare eras. How many more penalties, for example, would Matt Le Tissier have scored in his career had he benefitted from the sort of decision Marcus Rashford got in Paris on Wednesday night? Graeme Swann reckons he wouldn’t have got nearly as many Test wickets as he did, had it not been for the introduction of DRS.
The decision at City on Saturday didn’t rob the team of a point or three. As Guardiola said afterwards: “I’m sorry, it wasn’t luck. We won because we were much, much better.” He was dead right, although he did offer a little dig at the defensively-minded Hornets by claiming Gray played as a holding midfielder.
City would have won the game anyhow, but all we are asking for is a fair fight, a level playing field. The odds are already stacked in City’s favour given the money lavished on the team. They don’t need a helping hand.
But, again, perhaps this is football’s way of evening itself out. Neil Warnock was incandescent at the failure to award a penalty the other Friday when the game with Watford was similarly delicately poised. He was right, it was a stonewaller. The identity of the perpetrator? Daryl Janmaat, showing just what a game of swings and roundabouts this beautiful game can be sometimes.