Patrick Vieira stoked the fires of the Manchester United favourtism debate once more this week as the former Arsenal man insinuated Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were the beneficiaries of some biased refeering decisions.
Viera went on the offensive afterwards and claimed to have been misquoted by BBC News Sport correspondent Dan Roan, but since Fulham were denied a penalty at Old Trafford on Monday the question most football fans have been asking is; do referees favour Manchester United?
Both United and title rivals Manchester City have had their share of good and bad luck across the season as they embark upon one of the closest title battles in living memory, but who has had the rub of the green and who has ben hard done by?
The case for/against Manchester United
So the old story goes that when it comes to the crunch and the title is on the line, the referees start siding with United.
Danny Murphy’s tumble in the box at Old Trafford on Monday certainly hinted at, if not favouritsm, then a reluctance to give big decisions against the Red Devils with so much at stake.
There have been a few incidents this season that have certainly helped put points in United’s pocket as they chase a record 20th league title.
Tottenham were in the midst of giving United perhaps their toughest game of the season despite a string of noticeable absentees from Harry Redknapp’s starting XI.
Gareth Bale, Scott Parker and Rafael van der Vaart were all missing from Spurs’ starting line up but it was hard to tell as Redknapp’s men pressed and harried United in what was surely their most uncomfortable 45 minutes of the season.
Spurs were seeking to make their dominance count and looked to have gone one up when Louis Saha put the ball in the back of the net only for referee Martin Atkinson to chalk the goal off after it struck Emmanuel Adebayor on the line, firstly then in the stomach before ricocheting off his hand.
Although by the letter of the law the decision was most likely correct it seemed incredibly harsh on the home team, who were then left ruing the decision as United’s clinical finishing proved to be the difference as they went on to record a 3-1 win.
It was against another London club that they also benefitted from some favourable refereeing as they launched perhaps the comeback of the season.
3-0 down just after half-time against Chelsea, United received two penalties to give them a leg-up back into the game before Javier Hernandez levelled the scores in the dying minutes.
There was little doubt over the first penalty awarded by Howard Webb but it was the second one which raised a few eyebrows when Webb pointed to the spot after minimal contact between Danny Welback and Branislav Ivanovic.
However Ferguson’s assertion that luck seemingly levels itself out over the season seemingly has some weight behind it after a couple of controversial decisions went against them.
Newcastle were the recipients of a huge slice of fortune when they were given a penalty at Old Trafford after Rio Ferdinand won the ball clearly from Hatem Ben Arfa.
Although not in the title race United also had reason to be aggrieved as the exited the Europa League at the hands of Bilbao, where they were on the receiving end of a questionable offside decision for Athletic's second goal while play was harshly pulled back after Patrice Evra lost his boot in the build up to the Spanish side's third and final goal of the game.
The case for/against Manchester City
While Manchester City and Patrick Vieira have been sounding off in recent weeks about refereeing decisions, City have found themselves on both sides of the fence as they go in search of their maiden Premier League crown.
Gareth Barry could have quite easily found himself watching the game on the sidelines having just given away a potentially match winning penalty against Stoke in a match that ended 1-1 last weekend.
Mario Balotelli was on hand to slot home the match winning penalty against Tottenham in what could potentially be a defining three points when the two teams met back in January.
However the Italian would surely have been sent off had referee Howard Webb acted upon his stamp on Scott Parker’s head that earned him a retrospective four game ban.
Mancini’s men have been given the short end of the stick at times, and were certainly left ruing their luck as they stumbled to a 1-0 defeat against Sunderland in January.
Ji Dong-won scored a dramatic last minute goal to hand the Black Cats victory back but there was more than a hint of offside to the South Korean’s goal as City’s away day blues began to kick in in earnest.
Back in December Mancini’s men suffered a double blow of bad luck as they went down 2-1 to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
City were 1-0 up and looking good for a crucial win against their rivals when Jose Boswinga clearly fouled David Silva, only for Mark Clattenburg to wave play on but refused to book the Spaniard for diving.
In the very same game Gael Clichy was sent off after receiving two yellow cards, the first of which certainly looked somewhat harsh.
However before City fans could become indignant over their harsh treatment, Yaya Toure was lucky to avoid being punished during or after the game after he raised his hands and shoved Chelsea’s Juan Mata in the face.