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Handball rule draws widespread ire in penalty-dominated EPL

Sports

Tottenham coach Jose Mourinho gestures during the English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham and Newcastle at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020. (Andrew Boyers/Pool via AP)

Jose Mourinho had seen enough.

The fulltime whistle had yet to be blown but the Tottenham manager stormed down the tunnel — his head down and hands in his pockets — after seeing his team fall foul of a handball ruling that has quickly become the biggest talking point of the Premier League season.

It was the fifth minute of stoppage time and Tottenham was seeing out a 1-0 lead against Newcastle when a ball was pumped into Spurs’ penalty area from a free kick. A header by Newcastle substitute Andy Carroll struck the outstretched arm of Eric Dier — as the Tottenham defender was looking the other way — and loud appeals from Newcastle players reverberated around the empty stadium.

Almost inevitably, a penalty was awarded after the referee took the opportunity to view the incident on the pitchside monitor.

Callum Wilson converted the spot kick from Newcastle’s first shot on target all match, the visitors were about to escape with a 1-1 draw, and a disgusted Mourinho didn’t want to hang around.

It was also a day to forget for Mourinho’s big coaching rival, Pep Guardiola, whose Manchester City team conceded three penalties — none of them for handball, however — and lost 5-2 at home to Leicester.

Jamie Vardy scored a hat trick, with two of them coming from the penalty spot. There have already been 20 penalties in just 25 games in the Premier League this season, and there is likely to be many more as defenders struggle to adapt to a newly adopted interpretation of the defensive handball rule.

The Premier League has fallen in line with the rest of European soccer this season and applied the ruling in a stricter way rather simply than judging it on intent. Like Robin Koch, Victor Lindelof, Matt Doherty, Neal Maupay and Joel Ward before him this season, Dier was adjudged to have made his body unnaturally bigger by having his arm out when it was hit by the ball, leaving the referee little option but to award a penalty by the letter of the law.

Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson said the newly adopted rule was “killing the game” after his team lost 2-1 by conceding a handball penalty for the winning goal. Mourinho chose not to criticize the rule for fear of collecting a fine from the Football Association, but his Newcastle counterpart had his say.

“It’s a total nonsense,” Steve Bruce said. “We’ve got one today and we should be jumping for joy and through hoops, but I’d be devastated if it was against us.”

Players past and present spoke of their opposition to the rule interpretation, too.

“The FA needs to start asking themselves some serious questions,” tweeted Jan Vertonghen, the former Tottenham defender who recently moved to Benfica. “Absolutely shocking decisions and they are hiding behind the referees.”

Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher urged the game’s governing bodies to “sort this out.”

“This penalty nonsense is ruining the game,” Carragher tweeted.

In the early game, Leeds won 1-0 at Yorkshire rival Sheffield United.

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