Make no mistake about it, referee calls decide games.
And the manner in which Jonathan Moss’ decision to send off Sadio Mane on Saturday has divided opinions amongst pundits, coupled with an eventual scoreline that few expected before kickoff due to Liverpool’s strong record against top six rivals, has created a narrative of Manchester City’s 5-0 victory being sealed by a moment of controversial officiating.
To a large extent, that may well be true. Since arriving from Southampton last summer, Mane has established himself as a fundamental element in Liverpool’s starting XI – the Reds failing to win a single Premier League game in the Senegal attacker’s absence last season until April – and his dismissal after 37 minutes appeared to kill the game.
Yet, that was by no means the only factor at play on Saturday and how Jurgen Klopp reacted to the sending off must be called into question as well – most particularly the decision to take off Mohamed Salah at half-time.
Perhaps the German gaffer had always intended to bring off Salah early with the Champions League clash against Sevilla in mind, especially after his summer signing played two batches of 90 minutes for Egypt during the international break.
But the 25-year-old was undoubtedly Liverpool’s biggest threat in the first half, constantly testing Nicolas Otamendi and producing a curling effort at goal that required a smart save from goalkeeper Ederson, and with Mane out of the picture, he was the Reds’ only real outlet on the break.
As instrumental as the red card, Salah’s exit removed Liverpool’s best chance of getting back into the match and their efforts without him appeared to be an exercise in damage limitation – an exercise that was far from successful as the Merseysiders conceded three more.
It may be a stretch to suggest Liverpool could have still got something out of the game with just ten men and City scoring twice in the opening 45 minutes if Salah had stayed on the pitch. But it was an incredibly negative decision from Klopp and one that puts his ambitions for the season into question.
If the Reds are surrendering games to divisional rivals at half time, regardless of the amount of men on the field, can they really expect to be a part of this season’s title race?