The Athletic FC: How furious tweet sparked EPL bias row; tipping point for Ten Hag?

Hello! Take a breath before you send that incendiary social media post.

Coming your way today:

🌳 Nottingham Forest go nuclear on VAR

🤏 Ten Hag and Man Utd scrape through at Wembley

⏰ Bellingham’s late winner in El Clasico

⛔ Three goal-line clearances in one game

Forest Fire: What’s this wild tweet?

Another day, another fire for the Premier League to fight.

It’s been hosing down all sorts this season: disquiet over its profitability and sustainability rules (PSR), disquiet over FA Cup replay changes last week, disquiet over its video assistant referee (VAR) review system.

Moaning about VARs is a near-weekly occurrence; so much so that the noise around it could make you switch off. But none of the complaints have hit the level of fury seen in Nottingham Forest’s post on X (the artist formerly known as Twitter) after their 2-0 defeat at Everton yesterday.

Forest saw three penalty claims ignored and before we dive into their tirade, it’s only fair to say that at least two of those claims were extremely strong. Other clubs would not have taken the decisions lightly, either.

But Forest’s social media post (below) took aim at the VAR — and the decision to send it came right from the top of the club. In highlighting the fact yesterday’s video referee, Stuart Attwell, is a Luton Town fan, they moved the goalposts away from incompetence and towards conspiracy.

Is there more going on here?

There’s a lot of grievance at the City Ground — much of it caused by Forest’s four-point deduction imposed for a breach of PSR. Their appeal against that ruling will be heard on Wednesday — so there’s more fun to come.

They’ve also had a mounting beef with VAR calls. Forest believe they get the rough end of the stick too often, and they’re not shy in saying so.

Their answer to perceived injustice was to recruit Mark Clattenburg as a ‘referee analyst’. He took up that role in February. You’ll know Clattenburg. He’s the former Premier League official who spends his Saturday afternoons working as a celebrity ref on the UK game show Gladiators.

The theory, you assume, was that Clattenburg’s presence would make PGMOL — the organisation that manages referees and VARs in England — pay more attention to the quality of its officiating in games involving Forest. But two months on, the friction has only intensified.

What has the reaction been?

Attwell supports Luton but Forest highlighting his allegiance after the fact makes little sense, partly because they did not oppose his appointment in the first place.

Everton were in just as much relegation trouble as Forest before yesterday. A draw probably suited 18th-placed Luton best, keeping both teams within reach. Forest sit just a point above them in 17th, the final safe position.

Several other clubs have had public digs at the VAR system this season — but nobody has gone as far as Forest in implying bias on the part of an official. What is more remarkable again is that Forest considered publishing yesterday’s post at half-time.

The Football Association is investigating their comments and Forest knew calling out Attwell ran the risk of sanctions.

Forest are angry, clearly. On the flip side, there was no shortage of people who thought their outburst was embarrassing. As Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher put it: “It’s like a fan down the pub.”

Perhaps it was… but then again, the mood inside the Premier League does have the tone of a bar-room brawl. Politically, it’s not often that the division looks this out of control.

Tipping point or turning point for Ten Hag?

Speaking of making friends and influencing people, the VAR’s joyless intervention in yesterday’s FA Cup semi-final at Wembley was an example of why the system’s popularity is so limited.

The technology got the decision right but in denying Coventry City an extra-time winner over Manchester United, it also deprived the FA Cup of a bona fide scrapbook memory.


Coventry manager Mark Robins wasn’t happy. He felt the call was offside by a “toenail” (above) and, in years gone by, the goal would have stood — but that’s the trade-off.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe, United’s minority shareholder, made it to Wembley for the second half after running the London Marathon in just over four hours and 30 minutes — in time to see Erik ten Hag’s side capitulate from 3-0 up before winning on penalties and setting up a final with bitter rivals Manchester City.

As Mark Critchley writes, this is surely the tipping point for Ten Hag’s future: another game in which United lost control and where his substitutions seemed to make them worse.

Robins scored the goal that, as folklore has it, saved Sir Alex Ferguson from the sack at Old Trafford in 1990. His Coventry team might just have pushed another United coach in the opposite direction.

🎙️ More analysis in our Talk Of The Devils podcast

Bellingham settles Clasico and title

The history of Barcelona’s La Masia academy is compelling, and well-told by Pol Ballus. It has produced more than 200 first-team graduates and the upside of Barca’s financial strife is that the academy has taken on even more importance.

Over at Real Madrid, though, they’re making hay on a huge investment in Europe’s best young talent — Jude Bellingham.

The sky would be the limit for Bellingham if he didn’t look like going further. Last night he settled El Clasico against Barca with a stoppage-time finish. No doubt now that La Liga title is going to the Bernabeu.

Bellingham’s debut season with Real has yielded 21 goals and 10 assists in all competitions. He’ll claim a domestic title and last week he drove Real through a hell-and-high-water Champions League quarter-final against Manchester City. This is Ballon d’Or territory.

Reverse Hat-Trick ❌❌❌

Here is our pick of the weird and wonderful from the weekend — Leicester City’s Hamza Choudhury making three goal-line clearances in Leicester’s 2-1 win over West Bromwich Albion.

It was a bit like an inverted perfect hat-trick: a clearance with his right foot, another with his left and the third with his head.

Leicester rode their luck spectacularly but the result puts them right on the verge of returning to the Premier League.


(Toop photo: Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images)

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