Case Study: The Advantage of Advantage

There are some readers of this space who are not referees; apparently, they get something out of these rants and bits of analysis.  So, it is to those readers that I direct the following comment: there’s probably no better feeling for a soccer referee than to recognize an advantage, signal it, and have the team in possession exploit it by scoring a goal.  It isn’t from wanting one team or another to score that this pleasure derives, but rather from a sense that justice has been served.  The team in possession was wronged when they were fouled by the defending team, but we had enough ‘soccer sense” to recognize that calling the foul would extinguish a promising attack.  This can be counter-intutitve, especially for new referees, who instinctively want to recognize fouls quickly so that players know that they are on top of things.

Case Study # 5-2013
Date 29 Jan 2013
Competition Barclays Premier League
Fixture/Result Aston Villa 1-2 Newcastle United
Referee/Badge Mike Dean, FIFA
At Issue A textbook use of advantage leads to a goal for NUFC

It is with this background that we examine these screen shots below.  I must say that Referee Mike Dean is having a great year so far, getting the big decisions right and putting on a basic skills clinic for the rest of us.  This is a textbook case of advantage, recognized and properly applied.  Yes, we may quibble about the fact that Dean brings the whistle to his lips once he recognizes the foul – ideally, we don’t do this so we don’t confuse the players by having them stop because they think the whistle is about to blow.  But the more important point is that Dean gets the decision right.  Awarding a foul in this case would have denied Newcastle a goal in a match decided by a one goal margin.

Case Study: Dean Does It Again

Case Study # 19-2013
Date 8 May 2013
Competition Barclays Premier League
Fixture/Result Chelsea 2 – 2 Tottenham Hotspur
Referee/Badge Mike Dean, FIFA
At Issue Mike Dean and crew put on (another) refereeing masterclass.

I admit it: I am a Michael Dean fan.  I celebrate the guy’s entire collection.  For my money, it doesn’t get any better than when he plays a good advantage.

Apologies to fans of the movie Office Space for taking liberties with one of the best lines from the cult classic.  But the fact is, Mike Dean and crew have had a fantastic season, capped off by another brilliant display in the Chelsea v Spurs tie at Stamford Bridge.

There were so many good moments from this match, I found it difficult to narrow it down to four.

Incident #1 – The Fourth Official spots a foul

In the eighth minute of the match, Chelsea’s Eden Hazard (#17) was making a strong run through the midfield.  He had already played through a foul from Spurs midfielder Scott Parker (for which Dean dutifully indicated advantage), and as he entered the attacking half of the field, played square to Juan Mata (#10).  As soon as he did, he continued his run forward, in anticipation of receiving a quick 1-2 in return.  Spurs midfielder Tom Huddlestone sensed this danger and stepped in front of Hazard, blocking his run and sending the Chelsea man to the floor.

Referee Dean did not see this as it was in his blind spot as he followed the ball.  However, one of the two referees on the home touch line (more likely 4th official Jon Moss, based on the angle) spotted the infraction and relayed the information to Dean, who turned, realized what had happened and blew for the foul.  Dean then acknowledged the good teamwork of his crew with an appreciatory thumbs-up.

Incident #2 – Another Brilliant Advantage

This play is so brilliantly done by Dean that I had to publish the video instead of just the frames.  I think the video speaks for itself, though I’ll add this it not the first time this season that an advantage played by Dean has led directly to a goal.  Interestingly, you’ll notice in the replay that Dean gives AR2 a thumbs up; my guess is that the AR said something to Dean over the radio about advantage being on.

Incident #3 – Alternative Positioning

In the 60th minute of the match, with Chelsea leading 2-1, Spurs won a free kick in the attacking half, near the corner in front of AR2 John Brooks.  Dean positioned himself as if it were a corner, and has he has done before this season, discarded conventional wisdom and set up on the goal line to get a better view of the action.  Nothing came of the free kick, but Dean’s alternative positioning demonstrates he is willing to take a risk to get a better look.  (I have to acknowledge that this is easier when you have a 4th official and radio communication between referees).

Incident #4 – More Help From the Fourth

In the second half, Chelsea were playing out of their defensive third when one of their backs executed a long switch, from left to right.  This switch left Referee Dean far away from the ball, but very close to the technical areas and 4th official Jon Moss.  Spurs midfielder Gareth Bale was late with a challenge on Chelsea right back Cesar Azpilicueta.  As Dean was at least 40 yards from the action, he depended on Moss for information, which was quickly and correctly provided.  Moss demonstrates proper form by not following the ball, but instead watching the players through the conclusion of contact.  Bale was correctly whistled for a late challenge, but Moss (correctly) determined the foul to be only careless, and therefore no misconduct was involved.

Dean even won praise from the commentary team during the match, with play-by-play announcer John Champion declaring at one point “not much bothers Mike Dean”.  This is exactly why Dean – along with fellow BPL referee Martin Atkinson – is one of my role models at the highest level of the game.  They both exude a calm, quiet demeanor, prefer to stay in the background, but are willing to make difficult decisions when called upon.

Case Study: Advantage in the Penalty Area

Advantage inside the penalty area is a very rare occurrence, as we are taught to only let play continue only when there is a very high likelihood the attacking team will score. As penalty kicks are converted at an 92% rate at the highest levels, referees should be at least that sure that an advantage within the penalty area will result in a goal.

So it was a quite rare seen indeed to see referee Chris Foy allow play to continue in a recent match between Arsenal and Newcastle United.

Aresnal’s The Walcott (14) managed to squirm between three Newcastle defenders in the penalty area but was fouled in the process and fell to the ground. As the Newcastle defenders began to look at the referee to complain – expecting he was going to award a penalty – Walcott quickly got back to his feet and chipped the ball over Newcastle goalkeeper into the goal.

Referee Foy raised his arms to signal advantage, leaving the Newcastle defenders to ponder their decision not to play to the whistle.

The key learning point here is the same as for all situations where a foul occurs: waiting that extra second before blowing the whistle can pay huge dividends.