Coming away from Anfield, it was hard to imagine that Liverpool would not receive top billing on Match of the Day 2. No doubt one of the greatest games I have ever witnessed live as a fan, with the program’s Goal of the Month competition for December now presumably half-sorted already, it was nonetheless bumped down the running order by Manchester City vs Tottenham.
Despite boasting one goal fewer, you’d have to say it was a fair enough decision from the showrunners. The top-of-the-table clash was full of drama right to the very end, with a late equalizer for Spurs and then even later controversy involving Erling Haaland and Jack Grealish.
Tottenham was threatening to ‘do a Liverpool’, pushing forward in search of a winner after its late goal to level things at 3-3. But with the chance to find a teammate in the box, Brennan Johnson’s cut-back only succeeded in setting up a fast Manchester City break. As he was hacked to the ground, Haaland managed to force the ball through to a wide-open Grealish, but referee Simon Hooper’s whistle stopped the game and denied him a one-on-one.
It was, in fairness, a seemingly inexplicable call. It will be interesting to see if an official explanation is given — only something like a failed first whistle would make any kind of sense, with Hooper appearing to have tried to play advantage, only to stop the game when the chance for Manchester City became most clear.
Naturally, there will be limited sympathy from Liverpool. Most with an Anfield connection still remember another Manchester City game where proceedings were incorrectly halted as a player ran clean through — in this case Raheem Sterling, who suffered a flagrant offside call that ultimately had ramifications for the destination of the 2013/14 Premier League title.
More than that, however, Jürgen Klopp should be eagerly awaiting consequences for Haaland, and potentially other members of the Manchester City team too. Straight after Hooper’s decision, the referee found himself surrounded by blue shirts, with the towering Norwegian right in the official’s face and screaming aggressively.
Mateo Kovačić and Rúben Dias were also animated, while Ederson was needlessly on the scene in seconds as well. The terms of the ‘participants charter’, newly agreed for 2023/24, leave no ambiguity that this is completely against the rules.
Per the document, players ‘must not confront, invade the personal space of, or make physical contact with the match officials’. Meanwhile, ‘two or more players surrounding a match official in a confrontational manner will result in a yellow card and be reported to the FA’.
Sign up for our EXCLUSIVE Liverpool.com newsletter!
If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love our Liverpool.com newsletter — once a week, we send exclusive, bonus content only to people signed up to our mailing list!
Our newsletter subscribers get an extra slice of Liverpool.com from one of the best Liverpool FC writers around — straight to your inbox, and completely for free.
Wherever you are in the world — in the US, the UK or further afield — you don't want to miss out.
Haaland did receive a booking from Hooper — though as Google’s live match timeline noted, that only ‘enraged him further’. In truth, he could easily have been sent off, while some of his teammates were surely fortunate to avoid the book as well, given that there were certainly ‘two or more’ players around the referee. Haaland's now-deleted 'WTF' tweet won't help his cause, either.
But Klopp knows there now needs to be consequences. After all, his captain Virgil van Dijk saw a one-game red card ban doubled following the Dutchman’s own overzealous remonstrations with officials.
Already, there have been numerous examples of gross inconsistency. It always seemed likely that Van Dijk would be the unlucky player to serve as an example, with plenty of new initiatives like the charter seeming to be applied early in a campaign over the years, only to fade into the background.
But in this especially egregious case, which will certainly be reported to the FA, Haaland simply has to receive a punishment. Anything less severe than the ban received by Van Dijk would be unjust.
With Rodri already suspended for the big Aston Villa clash after accumulating too many bookings, Manchester City — now winless in three — would certainly not want to be without Haaland. Of course, even if charges come, they may apply too late to affect that particular fixture, but Klopp knows that a trip to Luton is not necessarily as straightforward as it seems either.
Officiating is a thankless task, and the charter recognized a real need to curb behavior that was becoming unacceptable. But it is useless if it is not applied uniformly, and after Liverpool lost Van Dijk earlier this season, Klopp knows what needs to happen next.