Vital win for Chelsea as VAR calls take center stage again

Sports

Chelsea Manager Frank Lampard celebrates his team winning their English Premier League soccer match against Tottenham Hotspur in London, England, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

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Chelsea manager Frank Lampard made all the rightcallsto mastermind another win overhis old coachJose Mourinho and strike a significant blow in the bunched race for Champions League qualification.

Yet, it was a slew of contentious decisionsby video assistant referees which caused the biggest fuss in the English Premier League on Saturday.

Olivier Giroud and Marcos Alonso — handed rare starts by Lampard — scored the goals in a 2-1 victory over Tottenham to allow Chelsea to pull four points clear in fourth place after the team’s poor recent run.

It was Tottenham manager Mourinho’s second loss to former club Chelsea this season. Counting matches in charge of Manchester United from 2016-18, he has lost on five of his six returns to Stamford Bridge in the past four seasons.

Much of the talk during and after the game was about a call by VAR not to send off Tottenham midfielder Giovani Lo Celso for an apparent stamp on Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta in the second half that looked worse on each replay. The Premier League later said it should have been a red card.

“Everybody in the world, in football, saw that was a red,” an exasperated Lampard said.

Later in the afternoon at Turf Moor, relegation-threatened Bournemouth was denied an equalizer against Burnley when VAR chose to rule out Harry Wilson’s goal because it judged there was a handball in the Bournemouth area 15 seconds earlier.

Bournemouth’s players and manager, Eddie Howe, were livid — the team had already had a goal disallowed for a ball hitting the shoulder of one of its players in the buildup — and Burnley striker Jay Rodriguez piled on their misery by converting the penalty on the way to a 3-0 win.

“It’s very difficult. I’ve got to be careful what I say,” Howe said. “After that (VAR call), I think we were psychologically spent.”

Then, in the late game, Manchester City escaped giving away a penalty against Leicester when Kevin De Bruyne raised his arms to block a free kick in his own area, before being awarded one by VAR in the second half when a shot from Ilkay Gundogan hit the raised right elbow of Dennis Praet.

Sergio Aguero saw his spot kick saved but was spared by Gabriel Jesus, who went on as a substitute for his fellow striker and scored an 80th-minute goal for a 1-0 win.

It’s the first season VAR is being used in the Premier League, and much of the disgruntlement has centered on the forensic geometry being used to call on tight offside decisions.

Not this day.

PENALTY PROBLEMS

Man City manager Pep Guardiola recently said his goalkeeper, Ederson Moraes, was the best penalty-taker at the club.

He might need to call on the Brazilian the next time City gets a spot kick.

City has now missed four straight penalties in the Premier League, all of them taken by different players, including Raheem Sterling against Wolverhampton in December, Jesus against Sheffield United in January, and Ilkay Gundogan at Tottenham this month.

Aguero joined the list when he smashed his attempt at the legs of Kasper Schmeichel, who dived to his right.

The Argentina striker was substituted off soon after and his replacement, Jesus, ran onto a pass that was slipped through by Riyad Mahrez to slide home a low finish.

Second-place City, which pulled seven points ahead of Leicester and is now 19 points behind Liverpool, has won two straight games this week since returning from its midseason break and next plays Real Madrid in the Champions League on Wednesday.

RELEGATION FIGHT

Aston Villa stayed one point above the relegation zone after losing 2-0 at Southampton, which scored early through Shane Long and late – in the fifth minute of stoppage time – through Stuart Armstrong.

Brighton pulled four points clear of the bottom three by drawing 1-1 at Sheffield United, scoring its equalizer through Neal Maupay barely three minutes after going behind in the 26th to Enda Stevens’ strike.

Sheffield United missed the chance to climb above Tottenham into fifth place, which is currently a Champions League qualification berth following Man City’s two-year ban from European competition. United and Tottenham are tied on points, four behind Chelsea with 11 games left.

Crystal Palace eased any relegation concerns by beating Newcastle 1-0 to move back into midtable.

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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