The Football Association charged both Chelsea and Manchester City with failure to control their players during the game-ending melee on Saturday. The FA’s desire for inane parity rolls on.
The FA declined to punish Nathaniel Chalobah and Cesc Fabregas for their roles in the scrum. To refresh your memory, Nathaniel Chalobah pushed Sergio Aguero to the ground seconds after Aguero tested the lateral tensile strength of David Luiz’s knee ligaments, tendons and menisci.
In the ensuing chaos, Cesc Fabregas tapped Fernandinho on the cheek. Fernandinho responded in the most rational way possible, repeatedly pushing Fabregas by the throat and chest into the stands. He then shoved his own director of sports medicine as he fumed down the tunnel after jawing with Antonio Conte.
Since the FA upheld Anthony Taylor’s decision to award Fabregas and Chalobah only yellow cards, the “failure to control” is a broad-stroked charge towards Chelsea’s bench. Diego Costa did, admittedly, leave his seat to try to peel Fernandinho off of Fabregas. In yet another mark of Costa’s transformation (or the imminent apocalypse of Y2K17), Costa seemed to be the only person on the pitch who had a calming influence on Fernandinho.
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The FA’s decision is a weak acknowledgment that, yes, both side’s players were involved. No Chelsea player initiated nor escalated any individual or group confrontation. No Chelsea staff member left their technical area. And no Chelsea player continued the altercation away from the touchline, like Fernandinho did or the Hotspurs last May.
Only by the strictest, letter-of-the-law reading of the rules of conduct could the FA punish Chelsea for their actions. In the real world, the Blues’ actions were appropriate, proportional and ultimately defused the situation.
Well, to be fair, Fabregas’s passive resistance probably trolled Fernandinho more than any outburst ever could.
Had Chelsea not responded as they did, everyone right now would be questioning the club’s heart, cohesion and passion. Antonio Conte would probably have suspended any player who did not react as Nathaniel Chalobah did. Conte has built the Blues into more of a team than they have been in years. Teammates instinctively come to each other’s defence. Anything less is a worrying sign of a fractured locker room. We know what those look like.
Both managers reflected how their teams handled the final few minutes of the game. Pep Guardiola was petulant, sore and petty in defeat. His shallow faux-cheering of Anthony Taylor late in the match is not worthy of discipline, but it shows the character of the man and his club.
Antonio Conte reserved his passion and outbursts for celebrating goals and wins. Even in his embarrassing defeat to Arsenal, he maintained his composure. Like his protege Diego Costa, Antonio Conte has learned to channel his energy in the proper direction.
Guardiola and Manchester City lost control. Chelsea and Antonio Conte maintained their composure when they just as easily could have matched City’s impetuousness. The FA would be wise to consider the disparity as they assess the same charge against the two clubs.