Thomas Tuchel was left furious after Sadio Mane escaped one of the fastest red cards in Premier League history just six seconds into Liverpool’s 2-2 draw with Chelsea – before opening the scoring eight minutes later.
The forward appeared to strike Cesar Azpilicueta in the face as the duo went up for a ball in the first minute and while he received a yellow card from Anthony Taylor, a visibly infuriated Tuchel clearly believed it warranted a red, shaking his head on the touchline.
i understands that the incident was checked by VAR but was deemed to be reckless rather than constituting violent conduct – particularly as his arm was straight rather than swinging – so the original decision was not overturned.
Mane then capitalised on a botched headed clearance from Trevoh Chalobah to score past Edouard Mendy.
“I hate to say it because I love Mane and he is a nice guy and a top player, but it is a red card,” Tuchel said in his post-match interview on Sky Sports. “The elbow is in the face – it doesn’t matter if you do this after 20 seconds or 20 minutes.”
Azpilicueta was similarly irate in his interview, describing the incident as a “clear red”.
When asked whether he believed the foul deserved a dismissal, Azpilicueta added: “He doesn’t want to challenge, he doesn’t see the ball, he just wants to hit with the elbow.
“They will say what they think, but I can’t understand – we are promoting the challenges in the Premier League, 50-50 with the ball, sometimes we are seeing a joke of penalties, and sometimes we see real, dangerous actions and we don’t take action.”
In a week when the standard of officiating in the Premier League has come under scrutiny, Azpilicueta added his voice to the growing chorus of critics.
“There are a few games where the referees become a bit softer, in terms of penalties and red cards,” the Chelsea captain said. “We don’t see the consistency even in the same game, [or] all through the season. It’s disappointing. These type of decisions, it’s clear. I watched the replay, but I didn’t need [to see] this because in life, I knew it was a clear red.”
What the pundits said
Despite Chelsea’s protests over Mane’s foul, the verdict was inconclusive in the Sky studio, though Jamie Carragher was the only pundit in Mane’s corner.
The former Liverpool defender described the incident as falling into the “orange category” – “worse than a yellow but not as bad as a red.”
“The point of his elbow gets him rather than his forearm,” Carragher said. “It’s the fact it’s his forearm, closer to his wrist than his elbow – and the fact it’s six seconds – that makes it a red not a yellow.”
“Are you serious?” Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink responded. “Have you got your red head or your football head on? It’s endangering the player.”
“I think it’s reckless, it’s a red card for me,” said Hasselbaink. “He knows exactly what he’s doing it’s an elbow – if you give a yellow card, it should be a red card.” Graeme Souness concurred, labelling the move “violent” and “dangerous”.
It is likely to be Mane’s final game before the Senegal international departs for the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon).
The same applies to Mohamed Salah, who doubled Liverpool’s lead with an exquisite touch to control Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross and finish at the near post.
Mason Mount also survived a VAR check for an apparent kick on Kostas Tsimikas but with Chelsea keeping 11 men on the pitch, they mounted a comeback before half-time thanks to a spectacular volley from Mateo Kovacic and a top-corner finish from Christian Pulisic.