Video assistant referees cause controversy every week in the Premier League, but how are decisions made and are they accurate?
After each weekend we take a look at the big incidents, to examine and explain the process both in terms of VAR protocol and the laws of the game.
– How VAR decisions affected each Prem club in 2022-23
– VAR’s wildest moment: Alisson’s two red cards in one game
– BE in the Premier League: Ultimate guide
SKIP TO: Forest 2-2 Brentford | West Ham 1-2 Palace | Chelsea 0-1 Arsenal | Villa 3-1 Man United | Wolves 2-3 Brighton
Possible Penalty Overturn: Robinson on De Bruyne
What happened: In the 93rd minute, De Bruyne went under a challenge from Antonee Robinson. Referee Darren England pointed to the penalty spot.
VAR decision: The penalty stands, goal by Erling Haaland for City to win 2-1.
VAR review: Two seasons ago there were many “soft” penalties like this. These have mostly been eradicated as referees look for contact with a consequence from the defender, while an excessive fall by a striker is also taken into account — but we still see a few given by a referee.
It is up for debate as to WHO, Stuart Attwell, would have recommended a review for a penalty, due to the theatrical way De Bruyne went down (more on this to come.) But the contact on the Belgian’s ankle by Robinson makes it highly unlikely that VAR would overturn the spot-kick if awarded. The ethos around soft penalties should still focus on the referee’s decisions on the field of play (more on this to come too.)
The bar is set in practice by the original decision — so similar incidents can result in different outcomes. That’s the big conflict with VAR and subjective decision-making in football.
That said, it doesn’t quite feel right that we can still see soft penalties like this, in game-defining moments, when they are rarely given in other matches.
Red card review: Cancelo on Wilson
What happened: In the 25th minute, Harry Wilson was through on goal when bundled over inside the area. Referee England pointed to the penalty spot and sent off Joao Cancelo for denying an obvious scoring chance (DOGSO.)
VAR decision: Penalty and red card.
VAR review: An easy decision for VAR to confirm. Wilson had control of the ball, was through inside the area and should have had a shot on goal.
Not only did Cancelo use his upper body to challenge Wilson, he also brought his left leg over the Fulham midfielder and did not challenge the ball. It is the last point that means Cancelo had to be sent off; if the Man City defender had made any attempt at the ball it would have only been a caution.
This incident shows us how a referee must act differently as a VAR. If England gave this as a penalty when he was a referee, why didn’t he do it for a similar challenge when he acted as VAR for Tottenham Hotspur vs Liverpool? Ryan Sessegnon was challenged by Trent Alexander-Arnold in similar fashion, but referee Andy Madley waved away appeals for a penalty. Surely, if England thinks one was a penalty, he should say both are?
But that’s not how VAR works. The VAR acts within the framework of the referee’s subjectivity on the pitch, what Madley describes he saw. With Alexander-Arnold on Sessegnon, it was more a case of Liverpool defenders leaning into Sessegnon rather than any pushing. If Madley had given Spurs a penalty, it would have remained a penalty; it is in the corridor of subjectivity where VAR will not intervene.
It’s understandable that fans will look at these two incidents and feel they are very similar, with the same referee in different roles producing different results. But England is not trying to create consistency in his own overall decision-making when assessing incidents such as VAR.
VAR reversal: Haaland goal disallowed for offside
What happened: Man City thought they had gone 2-1 up in the 74th minute through Haaland, but it was reviewed for offside.
VAR decision: Goal not allowed.
VAR review: Although the assistant referee kept his flag down, the VAR lines clearly showed Haaland was in front of the last defender. Remember that the two lines must touch to give the attacker the benefit of the doubt and the target to remain standing.
VAR penalty: Henderson foul on Wissa
What happened: In the 44th minute, Yoane Wissa tried to take the ball past goalkeeper Dean Henderson and went down. Referee Andre Marriner awarded Forest a goal kick.
VAR decision: Penalty, goal by Bryan Mbeumo.
VAR review: This was one of four penalty calls in the match – three for Forest and one for Brentford. Forest boss Steve Cooper was apoplectic that the only VAR overturn went against his team, while Henderson came close to receiving a second yellow card for the way he reacted – both before and after the kick was taken.
We’ve already talked about the level of contact and the striker’s reaction, and that all comes into play here. This is also why the decision to award Brentford the penalty goes against PGMOL’s desire not to award soft penalties through VAR intervention. Of course, a subjective argument can be made for the decision of the VAR, but that does not mean he should interfere.
Did the contact from Henderson make Wissa go to the ground? WHERE, Lee Mason, decided that was enough to knock him off balance. He may also have given it to Wissa trying to stay on his feet, without exaggerating how he goes to the ground. But the contact was minimal, and it’s not the first time Mason has been involved in a VAR overturn when it wasn’t necessary.
Mason was right not to get involved in the other three incidents, but if all four have gone against your team, with one resulting in a goal, you can fully understand the frustration from Forest.
In the 13th minute, Mathias Jensen challenged Emmanuel Dennis. Marriner waved play on in this incident, but if anything it could have been a free-kick to Brentford as Dennis had caught the midfielder with his studs above the ankle first. Even without the possible foul on Jensen, the fall from the striker was greatly exaggerated. There are comparisons to be made with the decision given to De Bruyne, as he also produced theatrics to win the penalty – the important factor being that the decision was made by the referee and not the VAR.
Fast forward to the 30th minute, when Josh Dasilva placed an arm on Ryan Yates, but the Forest midfielder went down easily. It is doubtful that the force used caused Yates to go to the ground in the way he did, and for this reason VAR is unlikely to be involved, regardless of which way the referee has chosen to go.
The final penalty claim for Forest came in the 70th minute, Morgan Gibbs-White going under a challenge from Ben Mee; The Forest player appears to bring his right foot across to initiate contact with the defender. Again, no VAR intervention is understandable.
The best outcome would have been no penalties in any of these four situations.
Possible offside: Yates on Jorgensen’s own goal
What happened: Mathias Jorgensen put his own goal through six minutes into stoppage time but it was checked for offside against Yates.
VAR decision: The goal stands.
VAR review: VAR had two things to consider – was Yates in the line of sight of the defender on the line, Mee, or was Yates challenging for the ball? He cannot be offside just by his position.
Mee had control of the ball and was able to make a clearance attempt. When the ball went back towards goal from Jorgensen, Yates could still have been ruled offside as Mee’s clearance does not reset the phase, but the Forest player did not directly challenge the Brentford defender.
VAR reversal: Penalty canceled for Guehi challenge on Antonio
What happened: West Ham were awarded a penalty in the 81st minute when Michail Antonio went down under a challenge from Marc Guehi.
VAR decision: The penalty was cancelled.
VAR review: Referee Paul Tierney felt that Antonio had been pulled back by Guehi, but it was clear from the replays that there was no contact of any note.
There are strong reasons for Antonio to be booked for simulation for the way he goes to ground, and that option is open to Tierney at the monitor. But Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi is the only player to have been cautioned for a penalty conversion since VAR came into the Premier League.
Possible penalty: Handball by Cucurella
What happened: In the 80th minute the ball hit the arm of Marc Cucurella, the referee Michael Oliver let the game continue.
VAR decision: No penalty.
VAR review: The handball was on the blind side of referee OIiver, so it is understandable that he may not have seen it. The decision for VAR, Jarred Gillett, is about evidence that the handball happened inside the area and not outside.
The view from behind created enough doubt that the handball took place outside, meaning that VAR cannot be involved. That Cucurella’s feet were in the area is irrelevant, only where the ball is when it touches his arm matters.
Possible red card: Martinez challenge on Bailey
What happened: In the 64th minute, Lisandro Martinez was trying to protect the ball for a goal kick when he appeared to throw an elbow at Leon Bailey.
VAR decision: No red card.
VAR review: There is no doubt that Martinez took a huge risk in the way he challenged Bailey, who was furious with the defender’s actions after the game. But there is not enough in this for VAR to get involved and review it for a red card. It looks much worse in slow motion, and at full speed there is very little in it.
VAR reversal: Penalty for handball against Dunk
What happened: In the 35th minute, Daniel Podence tried to hook the ball across the area and appealed for handball to Lewis Dunk. Referee Graham Scott waved play on.
VAR decision: Penalty, goal by Ruben Neves.
VAR review: The only question for VAR was whether the ball touched Dunk’s arm, as it is high in an unnatural position. This is due to the burden of proof and the VAR, John Brooks, ruled that there was evidence that the ball touched the arm.
Red card review: Semedo expelled
What happened: Wolves defender Nelson Semedo was sent off in the first half for DOGSO when he tackled Kaoru Mitoma.
VAR decision: Red card stands.
VAR review: This could be seen by some as a borderline case of a red card, as Mitoma is in a large area. However, the Brighton forward got a vital touch to take the ball into the box towards goal, creating the scoring opportunity with the keeper inside his six-yard box and unable to get to the ball first. For that reason, it would not be considered a wrong decision to show the red card.
Information from the Premier League and PGMOL was used in this story.
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