Pep Guardiola and Javi Gracia both called for the offside rule to be clarified after Raheem Sterling’s controversial opening goal in Manchester City’s 3-1 win over Watford here on Saturday.
The England forward went on to score a hat-trick in a victory that maintained the champions’ lead over Liverpool with eight Premier League matches left. Yet Sterling’s 46th-minute effort was initially ruled out for offside after Sergio Agüero touched the ball towards him. The Argentinian was in an offside position but as Daryl Janmaat had hit the ball against Sterling before it beat Watford’s goalkeeper, Ben Foster, the referee, Paul Tierney, gave the goal after consultation with the assistant who had flagged.
The City manager said: “If it’s confused in the rules, that is the problem. If [we] are confused now, half an hour after the game, imagine [how it is] for the referees taking a decision in one second. I celebrated the goal and then I saw the linesman – [and thought]: ‘OK, offside.’ After, he stopped and talked to the referee and you see the goal.”
Guardiola also pointed out Leroy Sané had an effort disallowed in City’s 2-1 defeat by Liverpool in last season’s Champions League quarter-final second leg in a similar situation. He said: “My impression is that the ball comes from the opponent so it’s not offside, because it happened last season in the Champions League and was quite similar – I was out of the Champions League last season for one quite similar to that – [James] Milner passed the ball to Leroy Sané, we would have scored the second goal. It happens. I’m sorry. I would not like to live these situations but in football it sometimes happens. Sometimes it’s with you, sometimes against, but again, in 90 minutes, we played really well. I know it’s important for Watford. We were 0-0 and did not concede too much and this goal opened the game. I understand perfectly. Hopefully in the future everyone can help.”
Gracia said there would be little point in VAR, which the Premier League will use from next season, if the law is not addressed.
Watford’s manager added: “I don’t think the VAR is the solution. I think the solution is first of all to have the rules made clear. The VAR I’m sure can help the referees but first of all we have to know the rules. There are different opinions [about the offside]. I’m sure the VAR will help referees to make less mistakes but first of all we have to know the rules and to know if it’s offside or not offside, this play.
“[Before the first goal] we were working hard and well and working with the confidence to be able to score in the second half or manage the game if they couldn’t score. They have very good players and you can’t make any mistakes because they take advantage.”