Manchester United are clearly a very lucky football team.
For all their skill and raw talent in attack, the Red Devils have had a number of key moments of luck this year to assist them in their run to the Premier League title.
Liverpool Jonjo Shelvey's red card and Antonio Valencia's penalty decision both in the same match; Fernando Torres' red card and Javier Hernandez's game-winning goal as well—those instantly spring to mind as moments when United simply got lucky.
But is it more than just luck for the Manchester club?
Is there something deeper going on—something that rival clubs have been whinging about for decades—that perhaps the referees do in fact favor the Red Devils?
Here are five reasons that support the argument that this is in fact the case.
First of all, there can be no disputing that Manchester United have received several controversial calls this year that have aided their title chase.
That's not to say that the Red Devils didn't deserve those calls, and that the call was incorrect; it's just to say that the vast majority of the close calls have gone the way of United.
As mentioned before, Liverpool's Jonjo Shelvey was sent off for a tackle that many believe Jonny Evans should also have been sent off for. Antonio Valencia later won a penalty in that game for a collision that had minimal contact in it, to say the least.
United would go on to win that game 2-1.
The match against Chelsea was also key, with Fernando Torres being sent off for a tackle on Jonny Evans that again that looked to feature very little contact. Javier Hernandez would go on to score the game-winning goal from an offside position and the linesman's flag stayed down.
United won 3-2.
And just recently in the FA Cup, United were awarded a penalty for a handball on West Ham's Jordan Spence just moments after the referee had waved away similar shouts for a penalty on Red Devils' defender Rafael Da Silva.
United would go on to win that game 1-0.
There are countless more examples for the Red Devils this season to prove that they have been fortunate in terms of those "50-50" referring decisions.
The 2012-13 season testifies that it's true.
Part of Manchester United's apparent favoritism must surely also come from the fact that they are indeed a very big and successful club in English football.
You could nearly go as far to say that they are the most recognizable and known football club in the world.
Thus, the big-club mentality that Manchester Untied bring to every match will, at times, benefit them in winning those close-calls. It might not be always correct or it might not even be intentional, but the numbers show that big-clubs have won more close calls than smaller clubs this year.
Stats complied by The Daily Mail show the number of penalties that clubs have won this year, and it's no surprise to see that the "big" clubs of the Premier League feature near the top. By comparison, the smaller clubs are down the bottom.
|Three or less penalties won||Four or more penalties won|
Newcastle United, Reading, Southampton,
There are of course exceptions to this rule, as we can see above, with few believing that Fulham are a bigger club than say Tottenham or Liverpool.
But what we can see is that an apparent favoritism is being shown to the big clubs of the Premier League. It's also interesting to note that United, City and Chelsea are the three teams on top of the league ladder, and they all fall into that second column.
Check out this article done by the BBC in 2012 for more on this.
One factor that is also important to consider in understanding why it seems that United win all the contentious decisions in the Premier League is Sir Alex Ferguson.
Notable, reputable, respected and admired but also brash, controlling, manipulative and a bully towards referees and other managers in the league.
Ferguson will go down as one of the greats of the game when he eventually retires, but don't expect many other managers to applaud him on his way out. He has simply used up all of his lifelines and more against them by something he has either said or done.
Take the season so far as an example.
Ferguson came out and questioned the number of penalties that Manchester City were receiving in the league—saying that "if we got that number of penalty kicks there'd be an inquiry in the House of Commons" (per BBC Sport). Given the number of penalties that United do receive, it seemed a little hypocritical for him to be saying such comments.
Earlier in the year, he questioned the amount of injury time that was given to Tottenham Hotspur in their 3-2 loss to Spurs at Old Trafford (per The Daily Mail). That no doubt infuriated plenty of people since Ferguson has always been a big advocate for more and more injury time—to the point that it has now started to be known as Fergie Time.
May the record also show that Untied scored goals in injury time four times this season—all of which have earned the Red Devils last-gasp victories.
Oh, and who could forget the day that Robin van Persie was nearly killed?
Just another example of Ferguson manipulating, or trying to manipulate, the Football Association and referees to favor his side next time around.
United fans need to embrace this about their manager—that he is a brilliant and smart man, but that he is also incredible cunning and ruthless when it comes to his own team. And that no doubt must have some impact on how referees "favor" United.
Ashley Young celebrates beating Manchester City.
As we mentioned before, Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal have all been awarded several more penalties than most teams in the league this year.
However, despite that, several of United's rival teams do in fact receive nowhere near the favorable calls that other do. The lack of decisions that United's main rivals receive in the league could also be a factor in thinking that the Red Devils receive all the calls.
I refer here to the Debatable Decisions table, which analyzes every incident during a match that was thought to be contentious—goals, offsides, corners that resulted in goals, handballs, penalties, yellow cards, red cards—basically everything that happens in a match.
They then determine what the correct decision would have been, what the score would have been and thus what the completion table would look like.
And interestingly, some of United's rivals suffer the most.
Manchester City have received one more call for their side than against them—the same as United—so there is no advantage gained there. But the teams that sit last and second last respectively draws great attention to the fact that they are both big rivals of the Red Devils.
Chelsea currently sit second-last on the decisions table with just four favorable decisions for as opposed to nine favorable decisions against.
And who else but Liverpool would be on the bottom of the debatable decisions table this year, with just six close calls falling their way as opposed to 13 wrong decisions against them—the most out of any team in the league this season.
The apparent lack of decisions for United's rivals could be a factor in understanding why United seem to get so many favorable decisions in the EPL.
Our last point here is one that applies to every team across every sport—including Manchester United—and it's that they get good calls playing at home.
Every team experiences it and every teams knows it's there; Manchester United just seem to experience it more often than some teams in the league.
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce made the following comments during the week in explaining why a penalty went against them and not against United.
There's no doubt about the difference between Rafael's handball and Jordan Spence's, [only that] Spence plays for West Ham and the away team, while Rafael plays for the home side at Old Trafford.
With Rafael, the ball hits his hand but no penalty is given. With Jordan Spence, the ball hits his hand and it's a penalty.
You see it time and time again at Old Trafford.
And at one level, there can be no denying that Manchester United receive good calls at Old Trafford, for home ground advantage is inherent in every team around the world.
In a ground-breaking study conducted by Tobias Moskowitz and Jon Wertheim in their book Scorecasting, they came to the following conclusions about home field advantage. Having covered 19 sports across 40 countries and over 100,000 world football games, they said:
- The home field advantage in soccer worldwide is around 62 percent.
- 90 percent of soccer teams fare better at home than on the road.
- Home teams receive fewer red and yellow cards, even after controlling for the number of penalties or fouls on both teams.
- Referees subconsciously favor the home team in close calls more than they will subconsciously favor the away team.
- The larger the crowd at the game, the more likely a subconscious decision is to be made in favor of the home team.
- Soccer has the greatest home field advantage out of any major sport in the world; perhaps because a single penalty is more likely to influence the outcome of a game than a single free throw or interference call.
- Home team success rate hasn't changed in over a century.
Suffice to say, when Manchester United are thought to have a significant home ground advantage, don't be at all surprised, because they do.
However, it must also be noted that their home ground advantage is seemingly no more apparent than any other team in the Premier League.
Even still, it has to be considered a factor in understanding why United receive referee favoritism. And when you combine all of the reasons mentioned before as well, it paints a very clear picture to suggest that Manchester United are in fact looked upon favorably by the officials.
Do Manchester Untied get favored by referees?
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