Survey suggests Manchester United would have title won already if not for refereeing errors
Manchester United would already be celebrating retaining their Premier League title, rather than preparing to surrender it to Manchester City, if every key refereeing decision had been made correctly this season, a study has shown.
Manchester City will win their first title for 44 years with victory against Queens Park Rangers at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday but thorough analysis of every big decision made by officials has revealed that Manchester United should be four points clear and already crowned as champions.
More than 200 hours has been spent analysing 674 decisions from all 370 games played this season including disallowed goals, penalty incidents and sendings-off.
Each replay was watched repeatedly in slow and super-slow motion with effort made to side with the referee where possible – decisions were not changed unless there was clear evidence that they should be.
The big calls that went against United and could have influenced the course of the title race included a penalty decision given against Rio Ferdinand for his tackle on Hatem Ben Arfa at Old Trafford last November, which meant they drew 1-1 with Newcastle.
There was also a potentially game-changing Jonathan Woodgate foul on Javier Hernández which was not given in the 1-1 draw at Stoke last September and should have resulted in a penalty and a red card. Each of these decisions probably cost United two points and a foul in the penalty area on Patrice Evra not given in their 3-2 defeat by Blackburn is likely to have deprived them another point.
The theory that the impact of refereeing decisions evens itself out over the course of the season is challenged by the research. United, for example, had 59.3 per cent of incorrect decisions go against them; City had 73.7 per cent of incorrect calls go against them. The difference between them and United is that when they lost out to refereeing decisions it didn’t alter the eventual result and only cost them two points.
The decisions analysed were those which could have, or did, lead to a goal. Match scores were adjusted as if each of the 179 incorrect decisions had been corrected by video technology in real time and an assumption made that any penalty that should have been given was successfully converted. The adjusted league table was then constructed based on the revised match results.
Among the 674 decisions analysed were 345 penalty calls made or missed, 129 key offside rulings and 135 incidents which did or should have led to a sending off.
Refereeing decisions might have cost Tottenham a Champions League with a league table adjusted to correct the officials’ mistakes giving them a three-point lead over Arsenal in the race for third place, with Newcastle adrift of fourth.
Bolton should be relegated by now and QPR safe. Blackburn would not yet be doomed while Aston Villa would go to Norwich on Sunday with their Premier League status still very much in jeopardy.
The research picked up 179 mistakes made by referees from the 674 significant decisions, meaning an impressive 74 per cent success rate in a job which does not benefit from the study’s advantage of video replays.
Chelsea may have benefited twice in key FA Cup moments but goalline controversies in the Premier League are rare. They are also usually called correctly, with 14 of the 18 decisions being spot on and judgments on two more inconclusive despite super slow-motion replays. Of the two the officials got wrong, only one would have brought a key change: QPR having been deprived of a goal and, therefore, a point in losing 2-1 rather than drawing 2-2 at Bolton in March.
How the survey worked
Each replay was watched up to six times in slow motion/super-slow motion.
For penalty incidents, separate viewings were used to look for potential contact at the feet, ankles, knees, and upper-body areas.
If a penalty was judged to be 'missed’ it was assumed the kick would have been converted.
A conscious effort to side with the referee’s decision was made where possible
Tim Long is a sports broadcaster and writer who has passed the basic referee course