Manchester City's Patrick Vieira has suggested that a sequence of refereeing decisions which have gone against Roberto Mancini's side may reflect football's general bias against the club and a sense that "people don't want us to win the league."
The red cards dispensed to Vincent Kompany and, to a lesser extent, Mario Balotelli have left City substantially aggrieved, which is why Vieira, the club's football development executive, has spoken out. He cited the tackle by Frank Lampard on Wolves' Adam Hammill and Peter Crouch's apparent eye-poke of West Bromwich Albion defender Jonas Olsson as examples of unfair treatment of City. Lampard was only booked and Crouch's offence went undetected last month, as City lost first Kompany, then Balotelli, for four games apiece.
"Frank Lampard's tackle looked dangerous compared to Vincent's. Crouch, when he put his finger in the eye of another player, looked bad as well," Vieira said. "It felt like... anything that City will do will be amplified and we get punished, compared to the other teams and the other players.
"I don't want to think about it because I don't want to say that everyone is against City or anything like that. But when you look at the last few decisions, you are asking yourself if something is wrong here, if people don't want us to win the league.
"When you see the last few decisions and everything is against us, compared to the other ones. We try our best to win the league, we accept our punishment. But when you look what is happening to the other ones, that makes us as a football club really frustrated."
The 35-year-old also said that the automatic red card for any player who goes into a tackle two-footed risked removing the appeal of the English game, and that referees should be able to judge each challenge on merit. "Ten years ago the game was much more physical than it is now," he said. "Tackles that that were happening when I was playing at Arsenal – if that was a red card there would have been a sending off in every game I played for Arsenal.
"[Kompany's dismissal] was one of the harshest decisions I've ever seen. I think the referee should just be a referee, [decide] what he thinks what is right and what is wrong. If these changes to the rules mean that there is more of a European pace or style to the Premier League, then I think fans could get bored and would not come."
City, who travel to Aston Villa on Sunday, have emulated Liverpool in complaining about a series of decisions. Kompany missed last weekend's 3-0 win over Fulham but was back in training this week, and Micah Richards told The Independent that the Belgian's dismissal had affected the way he now tackled as a full-back. "Sometimes now I think [I have] to back out of a tackle so I don't get a red card," Richards says. "It's made me more cautious."