Is Neil Warnock right about referees favouring 'big' Premier League clubs?

Cardiff manager Neil Warnock branded Premier League officials the “worst in the world” after Chelsea capitalised on a refereeing blunder to produce a dramatic 2-1 comeback win.

Chelsea were 1-0 down with six minutes left when Cesar Azpilicueta, who was standing two yards offside, met Marcos Alonso’s flick-on to head home the equaliser.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek punished Cardiff further in stoppage time, leaving Cardiff to count the cost of assistant referee Eddie Smart’s failure to spot that Azpilicueta was clearly offside.

Warnock also felt that Cardiff should have had two penalties, both for Chelsea players holding Sean Morrison’s shirt at set-pieces.

Antonio Rudiger, Warnock added, should also have been sent off for dragging down Kenneth Zohore with the score at 1-1 and the Cardiff substitute through on goal. Rudiger was booked by referee Craig Pawson.

But is the Cardiff boss right – do referees favour the ‘big’ clubs? We asked our experts just that…

Neil Warnock saw his Cardiff team suffer a controversial defeat on Sunday


They might be incompetent on occasions but to suggest officials are in any way biased towards the big clubs is nonsense.

If it is sometimes seen that way, maybe it is because the Big Six clubs tend to dominate possession against clubs lower in the pecking order.

The missed offside at Cardiff was a freak mistake but it is worth mentioning I watched it in a packed Anfield press room and the first instinct was not to pick up on the rick.

Television replays exposed the scale of the error.

Of course officials are not biased against or towards anyone, although if they were fed up with a lifetime of stick from Neil Warnock, you could understand.


I think the officials are equally bad for everyone.

In fact, Cardiff and Neil Warnock benefited from a goal – Sol Bamba’s 90th minute winner against Brighton in November – just as offside as Chelsea’s.

This is the worst crop of referees and officials I can ever remember. There’s two or three exceptions but we lack the quality, depth and characters of years gone by.

VAR won’t necessarily solve it either because the poor officials are reflected in the way they run VAR – not very well.

While we cannot excuse Warnock’s post-match behaviour, surely anyone can understand it when you know what’s at stake.

Chelsea’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek celebrates his winner at Cardiff


As a supporter of a ‘smaller’ club, shall we say, I could provide countless examples of not getting decisions against the ‘bigger’ teams.

To offer one from this season, Sergio Aguero was awarded a penalty against West Ham , despite questionable contact, and scored it to secure a 1-0 win. There are others too.

But to answer the question, I doubt that plays any part in officials giving preferential treatment. They are professionals – and human. They will make mistakes. That’s why I’m in favour of VAR.

If we have technology (and done in the right way), why not use it to help? My real concern is that if we keep jumping on officials every time they make an error, we may eventually be left with a bigger problem. Who’d be a ref, eh?


They say luck evens itself out over a season – but if that were true, we wouldn’t need VAR.

Let’s put to bed one conspiracy theory that referees actively favour the big teams where pivotal decisions are concerned.

That’s palpable nonsense. There is not a shred of evidence – not one – to suggest there is deliberate, premeditated favouritism towards the Big Six.

For instance, after Manchester United , Bournemouth and Crystal Palace – who weren’t in the top six last time I looked – have been awarded the most penalties in the Premier League this season.

But I’ve been at games this season where decisions have gone in favour of the ‘bigger’ team and you are left wondering: “Would that have been given down the other end?”

I don’t believe referees lean towards Liverpool or Manchester City . But I do believe they are terrified of making a wrong call which could potentially cost one of them the title.

It’s called human nature.

Cardiff manager Warnock was livid with the referees following the full-time whistle


Do the big clubs get the decisions? Absolutely. Of course they do!

Neil Warnock is like a broken record in terms of his whining. He’s made a career out of belittling and berating officialdom.

Yes, he had valid cause for complaint at the City of Cardiff Stadium. But it was pointed out afterwards that his tone was far different when Sol Bamba scored from an offside position against Brighton and the decision went in his favour.

That, however, is masking the real issue.

Sir Alex Ferguson was a prime mover in this, putting pressure on referees. Arsene Wenger had his moments as well.
No official wanted to be picked on. They know if they are refereeing one of the top guns that every decision will be pored over. That is the price that they have to pay.

And did they want the likes of Ferguson or Wenger on their case afterwards? What do you think?

Steve Bruce admitted after he retired from playing that it happened. Jermaine Jenas said likewise on Match-of-the-Day 2 on Sunday night.

So it has been going on for years. Nothing has changed.

The big clubs have always received preferential treatment – and probably always will.


It’s wrong to suggest that Chelsea got those decisions at Cardiff on Sunday simply because they are ‘bigger’ than their opponents. They got them because they were lucky.

As a serial manager of the ‘smaller’ sides it might suit Warnock to bang on about some sort of agenda designed to keep the little man down, but it is simple misfortune coupled with the fact that the ‘smaller’ side are often on the backfoot against the ‘bigger’ one, thereby creating more opportunities for crucial decisions to go wrong.

We all know that VAR has its problems, but it would have got those calls right at Cardiff, thereby making Warnock’s argument null and void from next season anyway.

The loss was down to bad luck and poor officiating, not the relative status of Cardiff and Chelsea.

Cardiff players react following their heartbreaking Premier League defeat


It is scandalous to question the professional referees’ integrity in the way that Neil Warnock does.

Referees are at that level because they are the best in the business, at the absolute top of their game. Regardless of what Warnock thinks, he could not do a better job of calling a game straight down the middle.

Yes, decisions are occasionally wrong, but to suggest that they get them intentionally incorrect to benefit the big teams is ridiculous.

Whether he likes it or not, referees are neutrals. They cannot referee the teams which they have any interests in. They call games how they see them and with no bias.

But treat a referee badly and maybe they will think twice about giving you a decision if it is 50/50.

Warnock’s conduct towards Premier League referees always has been, and still is, archaic.

He screams in their faces, he speaks down to them, he gestures and sets a generally awful example for youngsters watching the game.

Maybe, just maybe, if Warnock started showing some respect towards match officials, he might get some respect in return.


I cannot agree with what Neil Warnock had to say.

Referees make mistakes, yes, but that is a given. To produce a statement of that proportion is ridiculous, and I’d love to see the facts that back it up.

Stats in the past have presented that more penalties have been given to the ‘big six’ than the 14 teams that sit below.

But is this not because they are getting into these attacking scenarios far more than the teams below them?

Yes the Azpilicueta goal was offside, but I don’t believe the challenge from Rudiger warranted a supposed red card.

Firstly, Zohore didn’t have control of the ball as he was moving onto it, and with Kepa coming off of his line I don’t see how it can be a clear and obvious goal scoring opportunity.

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