Case Study: Locked and Loaded

During a recent Barclays Premier League match between Burnley and Chelsea, Burnley striker Ashley Barnes and Chelsea midfielder Nemanja Matic were involved in a controversial tackle in the Burnley attacking half of the field.

As Barnes passed the ball to a teammate, Matic came from a 90 degree angle and cut across Barnes, and deflected the pass.  Barnes studs then made full contact with Matic’s leg, which resulted in Matic falling to the ground.

After a delay of 1-2 seconds, Matic quickly got up, rushed over and pushed Barnes to the ground.  It was clear that Matic was upset about what he perceived to be a “leg breaker”:  a very dangerous tackle.

In the dust up that ensued, Matic was sent off for violent conduct by referee Martin Atkinson.  Chelsea fullback Branislav Ivanovic received a caution for dissent when he grabbed the arm of the referee in attempt to prevent him from showing the red card to Matic.  No misconduct punishment was given to Barnes.

Everyone should agree that, independent of other events, Matic must be sent off for his response to the incident.  Hopefully, this is plainly obvious, so I am not going to address it here.

What remains is whether or not Barnes should have been sanctioned by referee Atkinson for the tackle that initiated the incident.  On the iTOOTR Facebook Page, some have argued that the referee was correct in not sanctioning Barnes for misconduct because the latter was merely following through on his passing motion, and that the subsequent contact was quite accidental.

I believe a clear and sober analysis of the facts of the case, along with a revisitation of the Laws of the Game will lead us to a conclusion that is soundly grounded in the Laws.

Here are the facts:

  • Barnes makes contact with Matic after the ball has been played
  • Barnes’ studs make contact with the lower part of Matic’s leg.
  • Barnes’ knee is “locked”; that is, in a straight position whereby the energy of Barnes’ momentum will be fully transferred down his leg and into his opponent
  • Matic is at significant risk of serious injury as a result of this tackle

Following are the relevant sections of the Laws of the Game:

A player, substitute or substituted player is sent off if he commits any of the following seven offences:

  • serious foul play

–from Law 12, “FIFA Laws of the Game

A tackle that endangers the safety of an opponent must be sanctioned as serious foul play. (emphasis added)

–from “Interpretations of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees

It is also serious foul play if a player commits any tackle which endangers the safety of an opponent. In this case, the tackle may be from behind, from the side, or from the front. (emphasis added)

–from “Advice to Referees, 2013-2014“, published by the United States Soccer Federation

I stated earlier that Barnes’ tackle on Matic has put the latter at risk for serious (potentially leg-breaking) injury.  Given that fact, the guidance from all of the official publications point only to one outcome:  Barnes must be sent off for serious foul play.

There are no references in any of the official publications or position papers that stipulate a player may be excused of serious foul play for endangering the safety of an opponent if the referee believes the offending player didn’t intend to harm his/her opponent.

The Laws, Interpretations and ATRs (for those of us in the USA) are quite specific and very clear in this regard.

Why didn’t referee Atkinson punish Barnes accordingly?  We will never know for sure, but looking at this frame, I think is is possible that Matic himself is screening Atkinson so that the referee cannot see Barnes studs make contact with Matic.

Locked and Loaded FI

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10 thoughts on “Case Study: Locked and Loaded

  1. Could this be a situation where the AR can have input. While the AR is not in the screen in the shot shown above, if he is in line with the 2nd to last defender then he should have the reverse angle from the Center. After the card is given out the AR can conference with the Center and another card be awarded. Heck with the radio headsets, they should be able to speak to one another.

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  2. I am perhaps seeing this from a different perspective. What I see is Barnes playing the ball from a natural position and Matic initiates the challenge. He lunges for the ball with an outstretched leg and off balance. In my view places himself in a dangerous position. The resulting impact of the cleat to his lower leg is more a result of his challenge than the play of Barnes. I tend to think the referee is correct in not cautioning or sending off Barnes.

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  3. The AR Is in the picture in the top-right corner. While it’s possible he had a better angle, he’s very far away.

    What about the 4th official?

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  4. What is the referee’s view of the incident, (is Matic’s position, stopping the referee from a clear view), Has this incident been looked at though the Pro-Zone software, this would give a clue to what the referee saw. From his view, he may have thought that the opposing player had caught Matic with his follow through. A referee must at on what he sees and not from what a players reaction is.

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  5. Every player at all times must be in control of themselves. In this case even if you believe Matic put himself in the path of a normal follow through, watch closely to what Barnes does – he extends his leg, studs up and even leaves the ground with his trailing leg – there is no attempt to pull up or lessen the contact and in fact seems to increase the force used.

    A normal follow through may have made contact with the toe at worst or top of his cleat with slight contact to the foot or lower shin even if the opponent put his leg in harms way.

    This is an over the ball, studs up tackle and the contact is just below the knee of an opponent, clearly endangering the safety – in my opinion not resembling a normal follow through of a safe tackle in any way.

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  6. The problem is you define Barnes actions as a tackle, which they were not. A tackle in soccer is to block or impede the movement or progress of (an opponent having the ball) with the result of depriving the opponent of the ball. Barnes was in possession of the ball and playing it forward.
    Sometimes we get wrapped up in the end results rather than the actions that preceded the result.

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  7. Keith, at first and second and third glance of the video at normal speed I agreed with you. However watching the video in slow motion I saw what Steve saw, in addition I looked at Barnes eyes which seem to glance on Matic before impact. Then I watch again at normal speed and I do think the intent is there to damage Matic, there was clearly an exaggerated follow through, compared to early plays throughout the game by Barnes that were similar. I agree that a caution at the least should have been necessary. However if it was me on the pitch (one day maybe) I am confident I would not have given any punishment to Barnes based on my first instinct and watching the video live.

    Listen to the commentators, they do not even see anything wrong with the challenge until their 2nd or 3rd replay.

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