Of the four minutes Jose Mourinho picked out to use as the major reasons why Chelsea failed to beat Burnley at home yesterday, the 69th was arguably the stand-out.
Don’t get me wrong, the foul on Branislav Ivanovic in the 30th minute, the hand-ball by Michael Kightly in the 33rd minute and the blatant 43rd minute penalty for Chelsea that wasn’t awarded were all key factors, but none of them come close to trumping the red card Nemanja Matic picked up for bowling over Ashley Barnes after nearly having his leg snapped in half.
By trade the big Serbian is a bruiser of a midfielder; his job is to put himself around the pitch snuffling out opposition moves and generally being a strong presence in front of his back four. If the likes of Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Francesc Fabregas are the shaft and head of the spear, then Matic is the centre-point of the shield.
Make no mistake though, the 26-year-old should never have to expect the sort of tackle that Barnes placed on him mid-way through the second-half. It wasn’t the lateness of the foul, that can be excused as a genuine accident given that both players were stretching for the ball before Matic nicked it first. It was the fact that not only did the Burnley man have all the studs on his right-boot showing, but they were being propelled forward by a leg that wanted to push down.
To say beyond all doubt that Barnes meant to do what he did to Matic is to be guarded against, as only he knows what was running through his mind at the exact moment he lunged in.
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To the trained eye though it looks eerily like the 25-year-old could have approached the tackle in a manner that would have seen shin-to-shin contact, with his boots hitting the ground, not the spectacle that ended up with his opponent’s leg bowing to the point of it being cringeworthy.
Mourinho himself branded the incident ‘criminal’, and for once The Special One wasn’t wrong in flexing his hyperbolic vocabulary. What resulted was an instinctual reaction from a man who was all too aware that he was lucky to be able to walk; a quick sprint, a heavy push and a tirade of abuse towards Martin Atkinson for doing nothing.
He deserved his red card for assaulting Barnes - if that’s what it can be described as - if you’re going by the letter of the law, but to criticise his response in any way is tantamount to being as ridiculous as Barnes for making the tackle in the first-place. Matic will now miss the League Cup final against Tottenham Hotspur, as well as two other games that could prove pivotal in Chelsea’s hunt for the title, and yet he’s still a very lucky man.
FA must take action
As for Barnes, a retrospective ban must come from the FA if they want to steer clear of setting a dangerous precedent. To have Matic missing games for reacting adversely to a challenge as sickening as that is bad in itself, but to allow the catalyst of the situation to go unpunished raises questions not even the suits of English football’s governing body would be able to adequately answer.
My only wonder is how Matic managed to keep his ‘violence’ down to a mere shove. There’s hundreds of players in the world who would have perhaps exacted a more extreme method of revenge in the heat of the moment.
Chelsea fans, just how bad do you think the tackle of Matic was? Should Barnes be punished heavily? Let us know your thoughts in the comments box below...