Breaking down Chelsea’s penalty squabble: ‘You cannot behave like kids’

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Leading 4-0 at home by half-time against a demoralised Everton, Monday seemed certain to be a rare night when Chelsea’s maturity and discipline were safe from scrutiny.

What transpired instead, when referee Paul Tierney awarded the home side a penalty in the 64th minute, was a reminder never to underestimate the capacity of this Chelsea side to snatch public embarrassment from the jaws of unqualified success, as Noni Madueke and Nicolas Jackson engaged team-mate Cole Palmer in a three-way physical tussle for the right to take it.

Allow The Athletic to take you through a light-hearted breakdown of the silliest sequence of events seen anywhere in the Premier League this season… so far.


The lunge

Malo Gusto is holding the ball with the disinterested air of a pizza delivery driver approaching the end of their shift, blissfully unaware of the drama about to unfold.

What happens next would make a lot more sense if he was clutching a piping-hot large pepperoni; Madueke and Jackson both lunge desperately towards him with arms outstretched. Madueke’s stride is shorter than Jackson’s, which enables him to accelerate and reach the ball first, but at a cost…

The grab

… Madueke’s momentum carries him slightly past Gusto, while Jackson’s superior judgement of space and speed enables him to cup the ball in two hands.

It looks for all the world as if Jackson now has control of the situation, but Madueke — who allowed himself to be discouraged from taking the match-winning penalty off Palmer in the closing minutes at home against Manchester United 11 days earlier — knows strength of will, not quality of technique, is the most important factor here.

The block

Perhaps made a little complacent by his early success, Jackson makes a vital mistake: he allows Madueke to get inside position ahead of him and use his body to wall off the striker’s access to the ball.

It is a textbook winger’s move, though the great Eden Hazard would likely advocate more aggressive use of the buttocks from Madueke to keep Jackson at bay here. Nevertheless, it works, and Jackson lets go of the ball.

The debate

Jackson, now at a significant physical disadvantage, resorts to a verbal attempt to stake his claim. Madueke punctuates his rebuttal by pointing at his own chest, presumably hammering home that he is taking the ball for himself and not some other bloke called Noni Madueke.

Note also the poetic framing in the shot above of the fans’ banner paying tribute to Chelsea’s greatest-ever captain John Terry, a man who would have stood for precisely zero of this nonsense.

The walk and talk

Madueke sets off back towards the penalty spot — showing impressive natural technique to shield the ball on his stronger left side — and Jackson follows, the pair of them growing more and more animated.

Emotions are reaching a point at which an outside intervention is required, ideally from somebody old enough to be the father of either of the parties involved.

The elder statesman

Right on cue, Thiago Silva arrives on the scene to try to talk some sense into his misguided team-mates.

“It’s time to change,” his eyes seem to say, as he holds Madueke and Jackson in a loose but firm huddle. His body language suggests he is speaking more to Jackson of the two, however, which might inadvertently bolster Madueke’s confidence that he is going to end up getting his way here.

The duck and run

Silva, Gusto and Madueke seem to have cut off all of Jackson’s escape routes as they surround him, trying to soften the devastating emotional blow of not being allowed a free shot to potentially put Chelsea five up.

But he has an old trick up his sleeve: bending down as if to fix his laces, he backs up, spins and walks away, simultaneously signalling both disdain and surrender.

Silva and Gusto now leave Madueke alone with the ball in the Everton penalty area, setting the stage for the climax of this tragicomedy.

The rightful heir

Palmer, finally back on his feet after being fouled for the penalty, now approaches Madueke accompanied by Chelsea’s captain-on-the-pitch Conor Gallagher. He is firm and forceful without ever looking remotely fazed, while Gallagher’s facial expression conveys more weariness than anger.

Having the ball tucked under his left arm enables Madueke to ward off Palmer with his right, but his most impressive technical flourish is yet to come…

The ol’ switcheroo

Backing off slowly, Madueke waits for Palmer to reach for the ball in his left hand before moving it to his right with the kind of casual behind-the-back dribble move that would make any NBA point guard proud. This, however, gives Gallagher his chance to intervene…

The captain’s vote

Realising the time for words is over, Gallagher simply puts his hands on the ball. He is able to do this with minimal resistance because Madueke is momentarily distracted by something out of shot. Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

The desperate dash

No, it’s the Senegalese Neymar!

Jackson, it turns out, has simply been lulling his team-mates into a false sense of security by walking away, and he now tries his luck one more time with a late run into the penalty area. The only thing preventing the situation from achieving WWE levels of farce is the fact Jackson was unable to source a folding chair before making his sudden re-entrance.

The shove

Jackson’s charge is the tipping point for Palmer to finally lose his patience and, as he cups the ball in his right hand, Chelsea’s designated penalty taker shoves away the striker with his left. Madueke, remarkably, remains in the fray and still seems to think he can talk his way into taking the penalty.

One thing never in question here is the lad’s self-belief.

The endgame

Now in full-on nightclub bouncer mode, Gallagher stands in front of Palmer and acts as a physical barrier to two of his own team-mates, pushing Jackson and Madueke away.

Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford has edged up from his goal line in the hope of disrupting Palmer’s mental preparations, only to find his England colleague’s fellow Chelsea players are making a decent fist of doing that for him.


Palmer still scored the penalty, despite all of the team-mate shenanigans and Pickford trying to make an issue of his placement of the ball on the spot.

Television footage of the celebrations shows Madueke having to persuade Jackson to go to congratulate Chelsea’s top scorer this season with the rest of the team, while head coach Mauricio Pochettino glared at it all from the touchline.

“Other players wanted to take it, which is understandable because it’s 4-0,” Palmer later told Sky Sports, the match’s UK broadcaster. “But I’m the penalty taker and I wanted to take it so, in the end, I took it.

“We’re trying to show that everyone wants to take responsibility. Maybe it was a bit over the top with the argument and stuff, but everyone wants to help. It was nothing major, we were laughing and joking about it. The gaffer (Pochettino) has told us now.”


Pochettino was unimpressed with the on-field squabbling (Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Pochettino was less forgiving in his own post-game comments.

“The players know… the club knows that Palmer is the penalty taker,” he said. “I’m so, so upset about the situation. In every country, people are watching the game, and we cannot send this type of image.

“I want to apologise to our fans. Discipline is the most important thing for the team. It’s a collective sport. I’m not going to accept this type of behaviour. I’m going to be very strong. I promise it’s not going to happen again. You cannot behave like kids. It’s a shame — it’s an unacceptable thing. We don’t deserve to be talking about this.”

Pochettino’s anger underplayed the comic value of the incident, but it was an appropriate reaction; penalty arguments like this do not happen in a serious team, which Chelsea aspire to become again sooner rather than later.

It was not the first time something like this happened at Stamford Bridge this season, but it should be the last.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Cole Palmer vs Everton: Shades of Eden Hazard and a goal-of-the-season contender

(Top photo: Catherine Ivill – AMA/Getty Images)

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