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Just how offside was Juan Mata's offside goal against Shrewsbury?

Time to get the salt cellars out again…

BT SPORT COMMENTATOR Michael Owen was ‘a million per cent’ sure that Manchester United’s second goal against Shrewsbury in the FA Cup fifth round tonight should not have stood.

Unfortunately for Shrewsbury though, Robert Madley and his match officials were not quite so certain.

It’s clear that Jesse Lingard, Ander Herrera and Anthony Martial’s wall behind the wall below is in an offside position to start with.

starting pos

And they are not much better off when Mata connects with his free-kick. The trio run back towards their own goal, but even by the time the ball is crossing the wall, they are still in an offside position.

offside

The problem, which Madley and one of his assistants had to calculate immediately, is that Fifa’s laws draw a clear distinction between ‘offside position’ and the ‘offence’ of being offside. Simply being in an offside position is not a game-stopping offence.

From the rulebook:

“A player in an offside position is only penalised if, at the moment the ball touches or is played by one of his team, he is, in the opinion of the referee, involved in active play by:

  • interfering with play or
  • interfering with an opponent or
  • gaining an advantage by being in that position.”

Before the start of the season, the FA also issued a guidance to remind match officials about this area. It stated that players in an offside position ought to be penalised if they:

  • Clearly attempted to play a ball which is close to them.
  • Make an obvious action which clearly impacts the ability of an opponent to play the ball.

The question is not whether the three Manchester United players are offside. It’s whether, while Mata’s shot sails from the left side of the penalty area to the left side of the net, the three players in the middle of the box are interfering with play, attempting to play the ball, interfering with an opponent or otherwise gaining an advantage.

Would you raise a flag under those criteria?

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