Tottenham defender Cristian Romero was sent off during the early stages of Monday’s game against Chelsea as yet another controversial VAR saga unfolded in north London. The hosts went ahead through Dejan Kulusevski after just six minutes before a frantic period of fouls disrupted play on a hot-tempered evening at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Raheem Sterling thought he had equalised for Chelsea after 22 minutes, although the goal was promptly ruled out for a handball in the build-up. Tottenham were also lucky to avoid being reduced to nine men, with Romero avoiding punishment for a kick at Levi Colwill before Destiny Udogie was spared a red card for a heavy challenge on Sterling.
Romero appeared to catch Colwill with a trailing leg in an off-the-ball incident just seconds before Sterling’s disallowed goal, but VAR failed to punish the Argentina international after a lengthy review. Udogie, meanwhile, only received a booking despite lunging at Sterling with his studs up as the atmosphere inside the stadium turned hostile.
Gary Neville was on punditry duties for Sky Sports and was left baffled when it became apparent that Udogie was staying on the pitch. He said: “It looked like the classic two-footed challenge. He gets the ball but let’s have a look at it from here. That’s the one the footballers, the professionals hate. You don’t do that.
“That tackle went about 15-20 years ago. Honestly, I think that’s the classic red card. He may get away with it because of the fact he touches the ball but it’s a shocker that one. You don’t do that anymore, or ever did.”
Tottenham were eventually reduced to ten men just minutes later when Romero clattered into Enzo Fernandez inside the box to give Chelsea a penalty, which Cole Palmer duly converted to level the scores. It was a needless lunge in a dangerous area, especially given what had happened earlier in the match, and it meant that Spurs were forced to see out the rest of the game a man down.
On Romero’s sending-off, Neville added: “It’s a mad challenge from Romero. He doesn’t need to follow through like that and put his studs into Fernandez’s shin. It’s a mad challenge by Romero. For me it’s a penalty and he is in trouble because it is high. He might go here. It’s not a natural follow through. It’s definitely a penalty but for me, it’s whether it is a red.”
Speaking at half-time, fellow pundit Jamie Carragher was incredulous at the decision-making of the Argentine, comparing Romero’s recklessness to the sort of red mist moment he himself was guilty of during his playing days several years ago.
Carragher added, after seeing a replay of the incident: “Definitely red. Madness, sort of challenge I would have done years ago. Ridiculous position to be doing that.”
Former Chelsea goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, who was covering the match on BBC Radio 5 Live, shared a similar view as he said: “That is a bad challenge, that is a really horrible challenge. I think he had no alternative. That is a clear red card. That is a bad, reckless challenge. He puts his team in a difficult position and that is a terrible challenge.”