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EPL weekend overshadowed by calls

Villas-Boas ashamed of Spurs lopsided defeat
Villas-Boas ashamed of Spurs lopsided defeat
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Warren Barton

Warren Barton draws on 16 years of professional soccer experience as a studio analyst for FOX Soccer. With more than 350 Barclays Premier League appearances, Barton starred for Wimbledon before rising to prominence with Newcastle United and the England national team. Follow him on Twitter.

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It was wonderful to welcome the Premier League back this weekend in such a fashion. From the Merseyside derby – a game as good as any I’ve ever seen – to the duels in London and Cardiff, we saw why many of us feel that England is the home of the best football on the planet.

But, on a weekend when men like Sergio Aguero and Romelu Lukaku put on such shows for us, it is deeply frustrating to have to talk again about the referees. There were two big calls this weekend, and both of them, in my eyes, were wrong.

The first is an obvious one: Sunderland’s Wes Brown should not have been sent off by Kevin Friend, and manager Gus Poyet is right to ask for some accountability. The second came when we saw the dark side of Wayne Rooney come back out Sunday. We haven’t seen that from Wayne in a while, and by rights, he should have been sent off for lashing out by Neil Swabrick.

Now, neither call affected the outcome of the game. Stoke were always going to win at Sunderland, and Cardiff got the point they deserved against United in the end. Yet, this is a distraction, and we should be talking now about giving the refs some help. Goal-line technology is coming in, so isn’t it time to start having someone to look at replays and offer some advice?

It is very hard on a ref when everyone around the world can see plays in slow-motion, yet he cannot, and furthermore, cannot even get someone to tell him when a decision’s gone bad.

Gus Poyet had some choice words for referee Kevin Friend. (Photo: Scott Heavey/Getty)

But I also think that the refs should raise a hand up when they get it wrong. Men like Graham Poll used to do that -- and Mike Riley was right to apologize to Steve Clarke. But that’s very rare in England. The refs hide a bit, and that’s not right. Everyone makes mistakes, but let’s own up to it. Here in the USA, officials do explain their calls, and I like that. We need to start doing that in England as well, because it’s not only the right thing to do, it’s good for the game.

We saw a very good performance again this week from Arsenal against a tricky Southampton team. They showed real resilience after that difficult loss at Old Trafford, and it was important for them to bounce back from that result. Chelsea also looked very professional: Mourinho has them playing like a machine. They get in, get out, and both of these teams are going to be there at the end of the season.

But watching Manchester City crush Spurs raised some questions for me. Give all credit to City, but Tottenham have a problem, and if I’m a Spurs fan, I am worried. I do not think Andre Villas-Boas knows who to play, how they should play, and what to play. He’s trying to keep everyone happy, and in so doing, he’s keeping everyone happy except the owner and the fans.

Spurs have brought in a lot of players, and they simply haven’t gelled. They are not scoring goals and they are not playing with the confidence you would expect given the millions and millions of dollars they spent on building this team. And I think you have to look at Villas-Boas. He’s inexperienced, and he is needlessly complicating things.

Players are simple. Most of us, you just tell us what to do and where to go and we’ll do it. The best of us will then use our imaginations. But I hear AVB talking and all I take away is confusion. He’s tinkering, he’s chopping and changing, and it’s making things needlessly complex. For this team to succeed, he has to stick with a starting lineup, stick with a formation, and get it stuck in the players’ heads. But we saw a bit of this at Chelsea, didn’t we? And so, again: if I’m a Spurs fan, I’m worried.

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We have some huge games for you this week Tuesday and Wednesday as the Champions League group stage comes to a close. Dortmund need a result against Napoli, and Leverkusen might be a bit tricky for Manchester United. Our coverage begins at 2 ET live on FOX Sports 1 – you do not want to miss it!

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