Chelsea moved to the top of their Champions League group as they found themselves the beneficiaries of a contentious refereeing display in a 2-0 win over AC Milan at the San Siro.
A bright early start from Milan came crashing down when Daniel Siebert gave Chelsea a penalty and Fikayo Tomori a red card when the former Blue grappled with Mason Mount in pursuit of a through ball. Jorginho made no mistake from the spot and although Olivier Giroud spurned one great chance on the half hour, the result seemed clear as soon as the hosts found themselves a goal and a man in arrears.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s third goal in as many games wrapped the game up though Milan did not go down without a fight, substitute Sergino Dest blazing high and wide when a Rafael Leao cross had set him up nicely.
Chelsea’s night was not without its problems as Reece James limped out with what appeared to be a knee injury, a matter of no less concern for England manager Gareth Southgate as it will be for Graham Potter. That was the only cloud for the Blues on a night of silver linings. A week ago they sat at the bottom of Group E. Now they lead the way. Qualification for the last 16 is within reach.
A red card that spoiled the spectacle
After a quarter of an hour this game was progressing in intriguing fashion. Milan were greatly improved from last week’s disappointing collapse, the addition of Theo Hernandez adding a body to midfield as he drifted from his left back berth. Brahim Diaz was floating menacingly around the edges of the contest whilst Ismael Bennacer and Sandro Tonali seemed to be winning the midfield duels. Referee Siebert was being rather official but, well, he is an official.
Then the ball came in behind from Reece James for Mount to chase. Tomori played man more than ball but if it was a foul it was a soft one. CBS Sports’ refereeing expert Christina Unkel would contend it was not even one at all.
Siebert concluded it was – he did not see many challenges in the first half he didn’t conclude were fouls, many worthy of bookings – and therefore the laws were clear. The Milan center back had made a foul in the penalty area without attempting to win the ball. It was a penalty and a red card.
An official’s first task is of course to protect the safety of the players on the pitch, but it is hardly like Mount was in serious danger as he tussled with Tomori, who was hardly acting cynically. This was a cruel punishment for him getting too tight to his man, it was a foul and one without attempt to play the ball.
There are bigger questions to ask. The laws should serve the game rather than vice versa and at some stage IFAB would do well to consider whether the punishment fits the crime in these cases. One might also question whether Siebert could not have been a little more open-minded and flexible. It is not his responsibility to ensure the game is the best spectacle it can be, but would anyone in the crowd or on the pitch have felt supremely aggrieved if the German had bent the rules and showed Tomori a yellow?
A man and a goal down, Milan were out of the contest. A great game was stopped in its tracks. The referee might have acted in the right way but it felt wrong.
Aubameyang hot streak continues
The return to English football is going as well as Aubameyang could reasonably have expected. Five games into life in west London he has three goals for the Blues and seems to have found the consistent role that Mikel Arteta never afforded him. You will not see the veteran involve himself much in the build up or the off ball pressing. But get him in front of goal and those scoring instincts are razor sharp.
His goal was the finish of a goal-scorer par excellence, not just in having the authority to take the ball away from Raheem Sterling, but in driving it low past Ciprian Tatarusanu at his near post. The Milan goalkeeper was shifting his weight for the ball to be fired across him, Aubameyang sensed that and fired the ball into just the right spot.
From then on you would hardly see Aubameyang except around the Milan penalty area. Twice in the space of a minute early in the first half he very nearly found himself in the right spot, flying across the near post to flick Ben Chilwell’s cross before nearly getting a decisive touch on Mateo Kovacic’s effort from outside the box. This is poacher’s fare, something that we did not often see from Aubameyang in his latter years at Arsenal.
Dinamo do Milan in favor
Two defeats in six days may be a disappointing momentum check for Milan but their Champions League campaign is far from over, in no small part thanks to Dinamo’s efforts to earn a point against deposed group leaders Salzburg in Zagreb.
Potter’s side may be favorites to top Group E but everything else is now up for grabs. Salzburg currently hold second on five points but both Dinamo and Milan are only a point behind. It will be quite a test for Stefano Pioli’s side to reach the last 16, not least because they will have to do something no visiting side has yet done in this group stage and win at the Maksimir if they want to be certain that their fate will still be in their hands. Still if they remain in the hunt on Matchday Six and can rouse the San Siro as it was tonight
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism