Thursday 21 February 2019

John Aldridge: 'Calling Liverpool a 'diving' team is an unfair slur - and it's hurting them in title race'

Soccer Football - Premier League - Liverpool v Crystal Palace - Anfield, Liverpool, Britain - January 19, 2019 Liverpool's Mohamed Salah during the match Action Images via Reuters/Jason Cairnduff
Soccer Football - Premier League - Liverpool v Crystal Palace - Anfield, Liverpool, Britain - January 19, 2019 Liverpool's Mohamed Salah during the match Action Images via Reuters/Jason Cairnduff

John Aldridge

MOHAMED Salah has developed a reputation for being a diver and it is starting to have an impact on how referees are making key decisions in Liverpool matches.

Jurgen Klopp’s side have been awarded five penalties in the Premier League so far this season, but I reckon that number could have been doubled if match officials were not being influenced by the perception Salah and the Liverpool forwards are falling over in the box a little too easily.

Maybe I’m seeing this through red-tinted glasses, but I don’t agree with this slur on a team trying to win the Premier League playing a brand of football that is hard to dislike.

What we witnessed during the thrilling 4-3 win against Crystal Palace on Saturday was a referee seemingly wary of giving Liverpool a spot-kick on an afternoon when they could easily have had three.

From my seat high in the stands at Anfield, I had the feeling Liverpool could have had at least one penalty on Saturday and the TV replays backed up that belief.

Referee Jon Moss must have seen Andros Townsend handling the ball in the box, but he waved away the penalty appeals and I believe Salah should have been given a spot kick when he was challenged by Mamadou Sakho before half-time.

There was contact on Salah as the former Liverpool defender challenged him for the ball and he had every right to go down in the box and alert the referee to the offence.

I used to draw fouls out of defenders and goalkeepers in my playing days and if they are stupid enough to give an attacker a chance to go down in the box, referees have a duty to make the right decisions.

That statement might sound like I am encouraging players to dive, but this is not what I’m saying here, far from it.

Diving is a horrible poison that has been poured into our game more and more in recent years, with Neymar’s antics at the World Cup last summer rightly highlighted by everyone who was laughing at him for his antics.

Neymar’s version of trying to win free-kicks and penalties is just shameless cheating, but Salah was clever as he lured a foul out of Sakho and the referee made a mistake by failing to give the right decision.

The Palace players were clever as they quickly surrounded Salah and influenced the referee into thinking he had dived, but contact was there and he had every right to go down and ask the question.

Palace defender James Tomkins also touched the ball in the box with his hand in the second half on Saturday and got away with it, so this is a topic we should keep an eye on in the next few weeks as match officials could play a role in deciding the title race.

Liverpool and Manchester City are not going to drop too many points between now and the end of the season, so every decision is crucial and no-one would want to see this thrilling two-team battle decided by referees.

I am happy for any player to be labelled a cheat and given special treatment by referees if they merit that tag, with the Tottenham duo of Harry Kane and Dele Alli guilty of falling over in the box a little too easily.

Yet I don’t see Salah and Liverpool as a team of divers and maybe Klopp needs to have a quiet word with his players to make sure they don’t exaggerate their fall after genuine challenges in the box that should be resulting in penalties.

What is clear after the latest round of matches is City are now back in the groove, after their comfortable 3-0 win at Huddersfield on Sunday, and I would expect Pep Guardiola’s side to win most of their games in the final months of the campaign.

That’s why Liverpool dare not slip up. The win against Crystal Palace at Anfield on Saturday threw up a few too many talking points for Klopp’s liking, as Liverpool showed defensive frailty that has not been in evidence all season.

Conceding goals from corners was a major reason why Liverpool’s most recent title challenge collapsed under Brendan Rodgers watch five years ago and that old flaw cropped upon again against Palace, but they found a way to win and that is all that mattered in the final analysis.

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