Whether or not Luke Shaw misheard what referee Stuart Attwell said to Harry Maguire during Manchester United’s 0-0 draw with Chelsea is now immaterial.
Shaw initially relayed a quote from Attwell, suggesting the official was worried about the controversy he would cause by handing United a penalty for Callum Hudson-Odoi’s handball.
United were quick to stamp out any further fuel their left-back had thrown on the fire, insisting Shaw misheard the referee. But the ire of their manager remained, whatever was said on the pitch after Attwell had consulted the VAR screen and signalled for no penalty.
The Norwegian, like many United fans, thought the visiting team should have had the chance to go 1-0 up from 12 yards at Stamford Bridge. If Bruno Fernandes had converted the penalty, the game would have been very different.
But it was clear Solskjaer had an ulterior motive when discussing United’s penalty record, which isn’t nearly as healthy as it was last season.
He said: “It’s all these outside influences, VAR talk from [Chelsea] about Harry [Maguire] — that’s cheeky putting it on their website, that’s influencing referees. You can read what they’re saying about Harry Maguire, putting pressure on referees to give penalties against us.
“We’ve seen a manager, was it Frank [Lampard] that started it? There’s loads of talk about us getting penalties when there is no doubt whatsoever. And now, today, we should have had a penalty. That’s as clear as it is.”
It was probably a slip of the tongue that Solskjaer named Lampard — a manager currently not working — rather than the obvious candidate, when mentioning other managers’ references to United’s penalties. And in any case, Solskjaer pledged to have moved on from the furore, speaking ahead of the Crystal Palace game this week.
Jurgen Klopp started the fire, randomly choosing to talk about United after his side lost 1-0 to Southampton earlier this season.
“Man United had more penalties in two years than me in five-and-a-half years… but no excuses for tonight,” said Klopp, unprompted. His comments have not been forgotten by his opposite number Solskjaer.
Klopp’s facts weren’t quite right, and in fact some illuminating statistics have come to light regarding United’s penalty record since the Liverpool boss mentioned it.
United got a penalty once every 204 minutes in the 25 games before that Klopp press conference, while they’ve been given two in 16 games since (once every 720 minutes). They certainly should have been given twice that second number, in games at Fulham and Chelsea in the past couple of months.
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Manchester United were denied a penalty in controversial fashion against Chelsea in the Premier League on Sunday.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his players were furious that Callum Hudson-Odoi wasn’t penalised for a handball, as they had to settle for a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge. The point leaves United 12 points behind leaders Man City, with Crystal Palace the next opponents.
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It is likely a coincidence, even if United now feel they’re not getting the rub of the green.
Solskjaer’s rage will have resonated with Klopp and other managers though, even if Shaw’s comment was probably unwise.
The pair have escaped punishment from the FA, as their comments were deemed not to be a breach of their regulations, though it’s with regards to the mind games played by Klopp that Solskjaer may have the last laugh.
Even if his comments force Klopp and others to think twice about having an ‘outside influence’, then the Norwegian has succeded. The vast majority of United’s penalties prior to the debate prompted by Klopp were perfectly legitimate and should not have been questioned.
United will continue creating opportunities for spot-kicks to be awarded, and Fernandes’ record from the spot suggests he will put them away.
Nobody is suggesting referees have been influenced by Klopp, Lampard, or anyone else — or that they will be influenced by Solskjaer.
The United manager has rightly said they shouldn’t be, and that penalties should be given on merit. But perhaps doubt will be put into the minds of Klopp, the curators of the Chelsea website, or anyone else from a rival team when it comes to questioning the men in black.