New signing Distin gets Everton's second.
Everton showed their strength in the new Europa League with a 4-0 thrashing of AEK Athens. The Greeks, who finished 3rd in their league last year, were no match for an Everton side who utilised their dangerous set piece techniques to provide the first two goals, followed by a thunderbolt from Pienaar, and finished off with a fourth deep into a slow but comfortable second half.
It was the £10million summer signing Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, who will no doubt be known as ‘Billy’ who attracted a lot of eyes, and is a player who on that performance displayed the potential to be as devastating as his Russian counterpart Andrei Arshavin. He had a hand in both of the first two goals, and it was a shame when he had to leave the field injured in the second half. He showed creativity, a desire to win the ball back, and a few David Beckham quality crosses stamping his claim for a permanent place in the team.
Bilyaletdinov isn’t exactly the easiest of household names, but the staff at Everton’s shirt printing office will no doubt have the name memorized for the hoards of young kids who will be queuing up this morning to have his name emblazoned across their kits. It’ll be impressive to see how they fit it all on.
The UEFA Cup had become something of a ‘Mickey Mouse’ cup to many people. A second rate competition with confusing stages and teams entering from various other competitions along the way. A lot of the teams in it would be mid table Championship teams at best, and only once it got to the final 8 or so did interest really start to grow. The last 8 would usually contain teams who had dropped out of the Champions League, or those with a more renowned reputation. Yet even some of the teams themselves didn’t seem to care they were in it, cue Martin O’Neill.
After a re-think over the last year, UEFA have re-branded the competition to the Europa League, introduced a group stage similar to the Champions League, (4 teams, each play home and away) followed by a knockout competition. Teams in the group stages this year include world renowned teams such as Valencia, Lazio, Benfica, Sporting Lisbon, Ajax, Fenerbache and Roma, as well as last years finalists Werder Bremen and winners Shakhtar Donetsk. In England, the competition is still covered on Channel 5 (which is a terrestrial channel we must not forget), whilst in other countries the competition has been picked up by more renowned sporting broadcasters.
However the biggest change by UEFA, has been to introduce two new referees into the game. As the lesser of two European competitions, the newly branded competition is the perfect place to test this new regime, and if all goes well, they can then thrash it out to other competitions. The new referees stand just behind the goal to the goalkeeper’s right, the opposite side of the pitch to the linesman, and are there primarily for those ‘is-the-ball-over-the-line-moments’, but also to analyse potential penalty and diving appeals from a better position, leaving the linesman to focus on his primary job of calling offside and any other offences that occur on his side of the pitch. Ultimately the referees decision is final, but the new referees are there so that those moments that the referee or linesman cannot possibly see, can be seen.
BBC's helpful diagram of how it all works
There are a few potential problems with this system; firstly if the goalkeeper is smothering the ball and it goes over the line, even an assistant right there may not be able to see it, and also there could be a potential conflict between a referee and line-assistants decisions. Referees will have to be trained in these new positions, as well as working in such teams, and the Europa League is a great place to put this training into action. It is without question in my eyes that this change was needed, already this season Crystal Palace have fallen foul over a goal that went over the line but wasn’t given, and we all remember the ‘ghost goal’ at Watford last season, which will without doubt go down in football folk lore and the most bizarre refereeing decision of all time.
Another issue is that the referee could potentially have 5 voices in his ear at once, and those referees who allow rules to be bent to certain degrees in the game will have to become tighter. Last night saw Louis Saha sent off for raising his hand to AEK’s defensive mime artist Juanfran. It had been obvious all game that the defender was going to go down at any possible opportunity, it was embarrassing actually, and David Moyes was right in his post-match interviews that the Premier League, and even more so the Football Leagues do not see play acting of that ridiculousness, despite diving being an obvious issue. In fact I share Moyes’ belief that play acting is often worse than diving, due to the obviousness, because it makes the player look like an embarrassment when the replays are shown. Regardless of Juanfran’s play acting, the law of the game says raising a hand or attacking a player to any degree must result in a red card. Certain referees may be more lenient, but AEK also saw a player sent off for kicking out, and I felt it was good consistent refereeing from the officials to issue Saha the same punishment.
I remember a comment several years ago made my Ian Dowie when he was commentating on Sky’s Saturday show, saying that the biggest problem his players experienced with referees was continuity. In one game a player may commit an unexpected handball and get a yellow card, and in the next game do the same thing and receive a red. Therefore the players never knew what they were going to get from a referee. Sometimes across two games in the same day we see the same type of incident occur but they result in different punishments. With 6 referees (if you count the 4th official) the laws of the game will have to be enforced more to the word. If the new line-judge says “foul in the box, definite penalty, red card”, and the linesman says “foul in the box, definite penalty, but probably only a yellow card”, the referee will have to make up his own decision, but due to the lack of resolve between his assistants will more likely stick to the book. That and a sharper word from UEFA for referees to be more strict will without improve the relationships between players and referees, and with more official eyes around the pitch players will be less likely to try an outright dive. Would Eduardo have gone down against Celtic with an official right there?
I think this new system will be beneficial as fundamentally it will cut down on the million pound ‘ball-over-the-line’ decisions being given incorrectly, but could potentially have the ability to cut down on diving. It is by no means perfect yet, and if it turns out that the new referees cause more confusion than there was before then its time to look at technology, I feel that having two more referees is the middle ground between the ‘no’ and ‘yes’ to goal-line technology, and will also potentially help get those penalty decisions correct. It just needs to be well planned and taught by UEFA, and needs the referees to become more competent and confident of sticking to the law book, unless of course Stuart Atwell is the referee, in which case all hell will break loose… again.