Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Handball rule draws widespread ire in penalty-dominated EPL

Jose Mourinho had seen enough.

Jose Mourinho had seen enough.

The fulltime whistle had yet to be blown but the Tottenham manager stormed down the tunnel — his head down and hands in his pockets — after seeing his team fall foul of a handball ruling that has quickly become the biggest talking point of the Premier League season.

It was the fifth minute of stoppage time and Tottenham was seeing out a 1-0 lead against Newcastle when a ball was pumped into Spurs’ penalty area from a free kick. A header by Newcastle substitute Andy Carroll struck the outstretched arm of Eric Dier — as the Tottenham defender was looking the other way — and loud appeals from Newcastle players reverberated around the empty stadium.

Almost inevitably, a penalty was awarded after the referee took the opportunity to view the incident on the pitchside monitor.

Callum Wilson converted the spot kick from Newcastle’s first shot on target all match, the visitors were about to escape with a 1-1 draw, and a disgusted Mourinho didn’t want to hang around.

It was also a day to forget for Mourinho’s big coaching rival, Pep Guardiola, whose Manchester City team conceded three penalties — none of them for handball, however — and lost 5-2 at home to Leicester.

Jamie Vardy scored a hat trick, with two of them coming from the penalty spot. There have already been 20 penalties in just 25 games in the Premier League this season, and there is likely to be many more as defenders struggle to adapt to a newly adopted interpretation of the defensive handball rule.

The Premier League has fallen in line with the rest of European soccer this season to apply the ruling in a stricter way rather simply than judging it on intent. Like Robin Koch, Victor Lindelof, Matt Doherty, Neal Maupay and Joel Ward before him this season, Dier was adjudged to have made his body unnaturally bigger by having his arm out when it was hit by the ball, leaving the referee little option but to award a penalty by the letter of the law.

Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson said the newly adopted rule was “killing the game” after his team lost 2-1 to Everton on Saturday after conceding a handball penalty for the winning goal. Mourinho chose not to criticize the rule for fear of collecting a fine from the Football Association, but his Newcastle counterpart had his say.

“It’s a total nonsense,” Steve Bruce said. “We’ve got one today and we should be jumping for joy and through hoops, but I’d be devastated if it was against us.”

Players past and present spoke of their opposition to the rule interpretation, too.

“The FA needs to start asking themselves some serious questions,” tweeted Jan Vertonghen, the former Tottenham defender who recently moved to Benfica. “Absolutely shocking decisions and they are hiding behind the referees.”

Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher urged the game’s governing bodies to “sort this out.”

“This penalty nonsense is ruining the game,” Carragher tweeted.

Leicester became the first team to score three penalties in a single Premier League game, according to the league’s official statistics supplier, Opta.


By defending deeply, limiting the space centrally and striking quickly on the counterattack, Leicester had a game plan at Man City that worked a treat.

Leicester was helped by some poor defending by the hosts, too.

Kyle Walker, Eric Garcia and Benjamin Mendy all conceded penalties with clumsy fouls, with Vardy converting two and Youri Tielemans the other. Between his spot kicks, Vardy met a right-wing cross with a deft backheel flick, meaning last season's Golden Boot winner has now scored five goals already.

James Maddison scored Leicester's other goal, a 25-meter curler into the top corner.

City, which scored through Riyad Mahrez in the fourth minute to take the lead and then late through Nathan Ake, didn't have a recognized striker because of injuries to Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus amid a slew of absentees.

It was Pep Guardiola's worst home defeat since taking charge of City in 2016, and punctured the optimism that followed the team's 3-1 win at Wolverhampton on Monday.

“The problem was we put extra pressure on ourselves to score the second or third one when they just didn’t want to play,” Guardiola said. “They just wanted to defend and play on the counterattack and in that position we have to be more calm.”


Wolves, who had one of the tightest defences last season, have now conceded at least three goals in successive games after getting beaten 4-0 by West Ham.

Jarrod Bowen scored twice at the Olympic Stadium, with Raul Jimenez's own-goal and a late header by substitute Sebastien Haller helping West Ham register its first points of the season.


While Leeds was winning the second-tier Championship last season, Patrick Bamford was being criticized for his poor conversion rate for the champions.

In the Premier League, it's already three goals in three games for the striker.

Bamford kept up his record of scoring in every league game so far by heading an 88th-minute goal to earn Leeds a 1-0 win at Yorkshire rival Sheffield United.

United has yet to collect a point and hasn't scored a goal in the first three games of its season for the first time in its 131-year history.


More AP soccer: and


Steve Douglas is at

Steve Douglas, The Associated Press