On a weekend where refereeing decisions have grabbed attention once more, Chelsea will be feeling aggrieved that they were on the receiving end of a poor decision by Howard Webb against Newcastle United on Saturday.
Webb—one of the Premier League's most respected officials—saw nothing wrong with Fabricio Coloccini's attempted clearance that saw the Argentine kick his former teammate Demba Ba in the face, breaking his nose.
It was an unfortunate incident, one that television replays show was more a desperate challenge than malicious defending on Coloccini's part. But with his foot raised dangerously high, Ba and Chelsea have every right to feel hard done by that a penalty was not given. Webb awarded a goal kick instead.
With the game goalless at the time, Chelsea's interim manager Rafa Benitez was in no doubt as to the incident's impact on proceedings. In an interview on the BBC's Match of the Day program afterwards, Benitez said (via BBC Sport):
I think there were too many mistakes. I could see a red card that was not shown for Coloccini.
So we had a chance, he [Demba Ba] had the ball, he received a kick and got a broken nose, it was bleeding. It was so simple, if it was in the middle of park you would go back and give a free kick.
It is very simple and very clear—penalty and red card because it was a chance. It's a strange rule and the penalty could have changed everything.
Indeed, while the Spaniard may be somewhat pushing things a little too far in suggesting Coloccini be dismissed, he has a point when suggesting Webb would have awarded a free kick had the incident taken place outside the penalty box.
Why should this be the case? It may be deemed somewhat naive, but surely a foul is simply that, regardless of where it takes place on the field of play?
Ironically, it was Benitez's former side Liverpool that proved his point just 24 hours later on Sunday.
Facing Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, Liverpool's Joe Allen was awarded a free kick on 93 minutes in similar circumstances to Ba when Javi Garcia was penalized for raising his foot too high.
Fortunately for the Welshman there was very little contact made, but a free kick was still awarded by referee Anthony Taylor. Were it in the penalty box, the official’s decision would have been very interesting.
The tackle on Allen was a very minor incident that hardly registered with those in attendance. Had Benitez been watching, one suspects it would no doubt have caused him more frustration.
He’s now lost his striker to injury at a time Chelsea need him most as the fixture list begins to pinch. Not only that, Chelsea lost the match and look under pressure. Had Benitez prayed for a break before this game, he wouldn’t have expected it to be Ba’s nose, and Chelsea deserved a little more in that sense. They got nothing.
The inconsistency of match officials in penalizing teams and awarding decisions for similar offenses at different stages of a game remains a big concern that The FA needs to take control of.
Let's not fool ourselves here, though. While it's unfortunate Webb decided against giving Chelsea a penalty for Colocinni's infringement, the Blues came out second best in this encounter for a whole lot more—namely their naivety in being caught on the break while leading 2-1 for Moussa Sissoko to equalize.
Should Howard Webb have awarded a penalty?
For a team of their talent and experience, Chelsea continued to flood forward after Juan Mata's fine strike that put them 2-1 up. In reality, they should have looked to close the game out and ultimately paid the price.
Benitez's side are still very much in a commanding position for Champions League qualification. However, they promised so much more earlier in the campaign, and poor referring decisions or not, the players will be disappointed they will not have a say in the title race for another season.