Do the top clubs get the benefit of the big calls in the Premier League? It sure felt like that on Matchday 16 with four of the top five teams in the standings winning their respective matches courtesy of spot-kick goals.
Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United — among the biggest clubs in all of Europe, and all through to the Champions League Round of 16 — each had their match decided by a penalty call that resulted in the game-winner. Several of the incidents were of the debatable variety, but the referee’s final calls fell in their favor.
According to stats tracked by Transfermarkt, Chelsea leads the Premier League with five penalty kicks received this season, followed by Manchester United with three. The penalty awarded to Manchester City in its 16th league match was its first of the season, while Liverpool has had two penalty kicks thus far. The 11 combined penalties for these four teams make up 27.5 percent of all penalties awarded this Premier League season.
Manchester United (11), Chelsea (10) and Manchester City (nine) were among the top four clubs receiving penalties in the 2020-21 season, though Leicester City led the way with 12. Liverpool had six during the season.
The coincidence that all four teams won matches via penalty kick within a matter of hours didn’t go unnoticed by fans and observers. Below are the decisive penalties received by the big four and the conversation and controversy that erupted in the wake of each.
Six of the 11 goals scored in the Premier League today have been penalties:
Spot kick Saturday. pic.twitter.com/2nubaqTwgY
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 11, 2021
Chelsea’s penalties vs. Leeds
Left center back Antonio Rudiger(!) won both Chelsea penalties and they both were borderline calls converted by Jorginho. The second of the two spot kicks came deep in stoppage time, delivering the final blow to Leeds in a 3-2 win. And it resulted in a fracas at the end of the match with Rudiger at the center of it.
The first penalty came in the 56th minute at 1-1 when a sliding challenge in the box by Raphinha gave referee Chris Kavanagh a decision to make. Though Kavanagh awarded Chelsea a corner kick at first, he changed his mind after video review. Replays show Rudiger’s knees quickly buckling on the challenge, on which Raphinha got the ball and slid through the player on the follow-through. But Rudiger sold it well, writhing on the ground after the tackle.
And then the second penalty punished Leeds midfielder Mateus Klich for a reach-in foul that looked more like a tap on the back of Rudiger’s leg. But the Chelsea defender, with his back to goal, went down in a heap.
“What the referees decide is fine,” said Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa, who refused to get into a controversy about the final result. “It was a game that we deserved to draw and we lost just as it was ending, which increases the disappointment.”
Manchester City’s penalty vs. Wolves
Wolves were defending for their lives and holding on to a 0-0 result on the road, despite being reduced to 10 men after the bizarre sending-off of forward Raul Jimenez for two yellows within 30 seconds.
But in the 63rd minute, referee Jonathan Moss pointed to the spot after a cross struck the armpit of Wolves midfielder Joao Moutinho, who also had his arm raised. There was probably an argument to be made for and against a penalty (watch the play below), but Wolves coach Bruno Lage struggled to comprehend the decision.
“I don’t know how he can take a penalty from that,” said Lage, motioning to the area of the body where he felt the ball struck first.
Man City’s Raheem Sterling converted the attempt for his 100th goal in the Premier League. The goal held up as the 1-0 game-winner.
Premier League and FA spend plenty on technology but need to spend more on improving quality of officials. That penalty decision against #Wolves stinks. The pits. #MCFC the better team, Sterling class, 100 PL goals 👏, deserved win but officiating has to improve. #MCIWOL
— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) December 11, 2021
Liverpool’s penalty vs. Aston Villa
Although there was some contact, it really looked as if there was a brief delay before Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah threw himself to the ground in search of the penalty that ultimately decided the match 1-0 against Aston Villa.
Referee Stuart Attwell gave it, and VAR couldn’t really make the case for a “clear and obvious error” because there was contact. Whether it rose to the level of a penalty kick was purely a judgment call by the referee, but it could not be overturned.
Liverpool fans will feel that any complaints are unfounded given that their club had other penalty-kick shouts earlier in the game.
But Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard, who was making his first trip to Liverpool as a Premier League manager, argued that his defender Tyrone Mings was fouled earlier in the play and that Villa was “hard done by.” He also mentioned a penalty call he felt should have been awarded to Aston Villa:
Manchester United’s penalty vs. Norwich
The Premier League Saturday ended with another penalty in favor of the high-profile club. Cristiano Ronaldo looked to go down fairly easily in the 73rd minute at Norwich, but defender Max Aarons had a high arm on the superstar. Referee Darren England called it, and this one also had no chance of getting reversed.
Ronaldo stepped up himself to convert. Watch the goal and the foul below. The incident decided the match, which finished 1-0 for the Red Devils.
Norwich City boss Dean Smith wasn’t happy about the call and called it soft. And then he went a step further, labeling it a “typical Manchester United penalty.”
🗣 “It was too easy for Man United to referee the game today, Rashford game himself a free-kick in the first half.”
Dean Smith questions the decisions in the game as he felt it was not a foul on Ronaldo for the penalty pic.twitter.com/91ewGiHm5H
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) December 11, 2021