Week 29: Ligue 1 Talking Points: Referees making the Difference (Zlatan might have a point)

French football writer Eric Devin‘s new Ligue 1 Talking Points column took the plaudits last week and he returns with five more reflections on last weekend’s top flight action.

It was another weekend full of goals in Ligue 1, with only Sunday’s clash between Marseille and Lyon finishing scoreless. In that match, however, a non-call by the referee may have proved the difference. In the 83rd minute, Lucas Ocampos appeared to have bundled the ball over the line from a corner. Having evaded his marker, he seemed to have forced the ball into the goal as Anthony Lopes desperately tried to keep the ball out.

Running towards the crowd in celebration, Ocampos suddenly stopped and ran toward the linesman, realising that no goal had been given. Despite the Argentine’s protestations, Lopes kicked the ball up the field and play continued.  

Some people, including both sides’ Twitter feeds, tried to reason that Ocampos had fouled Lopes, negating the goal, even though the ball had crossed the line. Others argued that it never crossed the line, and that the official was right to let play continue, no foul having occurred.

Without goal-line technology, the debate raged, but on the whole, the incident was only the most recent in a string of potential result-changing decisions by referees over the weekend. Of the ten matches played, six saw a penalty given or a red card brandished. In Monaco, both were in evidence as Bastia finished with nine men and ‘keeper Alphonse Areola saved a penalty.

One could argue that none of these decisions truly affected a match, as penalties for PSG and Metz were consolations and Lorient had looked the better side at Caen before Damien Da Silva was dismissed for the hosts. Too, most of them seemed to be fair, at least so much as being grounds for dismissal. 

That being said, it was referees’ game management and not calls on big decisions that posed the issue in the weekend’s two marquee matches. This was particularly in evidence in Marseille, where eight cards were given, five in the last five minutes.

Had Benoit Bastien been quicker into his pocket earlier in the match, it is not likely that tempers would have been so hot towards the end, even with frustration showing for both sides. Perhaps hesitant to book players on three cautions (Imbula and Morel will now miss PSG’s visit in three weeks’ time), Bastien should have displayed less leniency earlier in the match, forcing a less physical approach from the players. With 34 fouls given, the most out of any Ligue 1 game on the weekend, the fracas at the end was almost inevitable, yet easily preventable. 

Heading westward to the Stade Chaban Delmas where Ibrahimovic’s PSG were visiting Bordeaux in another less-than-warm encounter that saw tempers again boil over, as a result of a chippy match. With 32 fouls throughout, the match’s first booking went not to Zoumana Camara for a nasty challenge on Diego Rolan, but to Thiago Motta for dissent in the aftermath.

Tensions continued to flare as Lionel Jaffredo failed to move PSG the required ten yards on the resulting free-kick, despite overtures from the Bordeaux players. As the match wore on, and the fouls racked up, Jaffredo continued to lose control. Most notable was his failure to penalise players for persistent infringement, with Adrien Rabiot committing four fouls and Isaac Thelin five, neither seeing a booking.

With a noisy crowd sensing blood in the water only serving to ramp up the tension, a shorter leash on the players would’ve made the match that much more spectacular. Thus, instead of a pair of captivating matches involving the title challengers, we were treated instead to two pugnacious affairs that did little to advertise the league’s quality, with no one to blame but the men in yellow.


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