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VAR - Is the Premier League the Biggest Victim?


VAR - Is the Premier League the Biggest Victim?

Matchweek 24 of the Premier League saw many referee and VAR mistakes with big implications for many teams.

Brentford’s equaliser against top-of-league Arsenal came with a number of controversial decisions, a possible foul and two possible offsides. Ethan Pinnock potentially fouled Gabriel during the free-kick routine, though there wasn’t enough contact for it to be deemed a foul. Pinnock was also involved in one of the offside decisions as he could’ve been deemed as an offside play as his ‘foul’ on Gabriel may have prevented the defender from closing down the eventual goal scorer Ivan Toney. Christian Norgaard also could’ve been deemed offside after he tracked back from an offside position.

The first offside decision against Pinnock took two minutes and 20 seconds to judge and the second decision against a player who directly influenced the goal took only 14 seconds, with PGMOL failing to even draw the lines. After consideration, Norgaard was considered in front of Ben White, therefore making the Brentford goal void.

Another example of a VAR mistake in the Premier League this weekend came in the game between Crystal Palace and Brighton. In the 32nd minute of the clash at Selhurst Park, Pervis Estupinan scored for Brighton, but the goal was then reviewed by VAR and disallowed. However, the Ecudorian’s goal would’ve stood had VAR drawn the offside lines correctly. VAR drew the offside lines on James Tomkins rather than Marc Guehi.

The last egregious mistake from VAR this weekend came at the London Stadium in the game between West Ham and Chelsea. In the late stages of the game, Conor Gallagher took a shot that was deflected behind by Tomas Soucek, who clearly used his arm. In a very short VAR check, the referees stated that Soucek was using his arm to “support his body”, despite him diving to block the shot and using his arm to make his body bigger. No penalty was awarded.

Despite the howler of a weekend, which saw apologies from PGMOL themselves, are the Premier League VAR’s biggest victims?

Here is what experienced former Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg said about officials and the use of VAR on the No Tippy Tappy Football podcast brought to you via William Hill. To watch the full episode click here!

VAR in Europe

VAR mistakes are not a uniquely English problem, with egregious errors being seen all across Europe’s top five leagues and the ‘pinnacle’ of European football, the Champions League.

A particularly baffling VAR decision in the Champions League came in Inter Milan’s game against Slavia Prague in the 2019/20. Inter striker Romelu Lukaku thought he had put his side 1 - 0 up after scoring in the 35th minute. However, within moments, the goal was rescinded and Salvia Prague were awarded a penalty. Though this was the right decision after review, the fact that play had been allowed to continue to the extent that Inter were able to score throws doubt on VAR.

Another VAR mistake in the Champions League can be seen from this season’s clash between Tottenham and Sporting CP. Captain Harry Kane thought he’d won the tie with a goal in the 95th minute, but after VAR intervention the glory of a late winner was stripped from Kane. He was deemed in an offside position, after Emerson Royal headed the ball back across to him. However, there was a deflection from Flavio Nazinho, which would’ve made Kane onside, but the decision stood, much to the chagrin of Antonio Conte.

This is also a problem in La Liga, with Spanish referees asking for the semi-automated offside technology after the huge VAR mistake in the game between Elche and Cadiz, both of whom are battling potential relegation, therefore making any points even more important. Elche’s 81st-minute equaliser was reviewed by VAR but was given despite goalscorer Ezequiel Ponce coming back from an offside position in order to score.

Serie A is also suffering from VAR mistakes, with a big one coming back in 2019 in a tie between Napoli and Atalanta. Leading 2 - 1, Napoli were shocked when the foul against Fernando Llorente by Simon Kjaer in the box was not given as a penalty, with the referee allowing play to continue where Josip Ilicic scored on the resulting counter-attack. This example shows a main flaw with VAR, the timing. The decision took five minutes to complete and was not overturned, sending Napoli into riots.

Despite there being examples in every one of the “big five” European leagues of poor VAR use, it does seem to be the most egregious in the Premier League. However, this may not be due to the technology, but rather those who operate it. English referees have long had a bad reputation on the world stage, with only two Premier League referees being included in the 35 referees at the Qatar World Cup. Therefore the high quantity of mistakes in the Premier League isn’t too surprising, although the patience has worn thin for most clubs.

With PGMOL admitting mistakes, there could be change on the horizon, however, some referees skipping a matchweek doesn’t stop the issue but rather postpones it, making these mistakes a vicious cycle.