Video Assistant Referee (VAR) made its Premier League debut on Friday in the game between Liverpool and Norwich City, meaning English football is now in line with Europe’s other top leagues. Coupled with the International Football Association Board’s (IFAB) changes and clarifications to the Laws of the Game that came into effect on June 1, it may take some players, coaches and fans a bit of time to get used to things but it looks like this innovation has come to stay. The VAR arrival in the Premier League for the first weekend has in itself brought some talking points. Let’s review how the major decisions were made with VAR. Follow us as we run through the big calls from the biggest games.
West Ham 0-5 Man City
After Liverpool vs. Norwich passed off pretty much without incident, VAR arrived in the Premier League with a vengeance at the London Stadium.
1. Jesus goal disallowed for offside (55 minutes)
David Silva played in Raheem Sterling, who squared for Gabriel Jesus to tap home. However, the VAR check showed that Sterling was marginally in front of the last defender. We were talking millimetres here, but the offside law is a binary decision and it not a consideration for “clear and obvious.” Being offside by a millimetre will be penalised.
Offside decisions are made using Hawk-Eye 3D technology, which uses several cameras to create the forward point of the each player’s body, and then form a line on the pitch. The lines are not manually drawn along the pitch alone.
2. Sterling allowed after check for offside (75)
Sterling latched onto a pass from Riyad Mahrez to lift the ball past Lukasz Fabianski. The offside check showed that Sterling was just played onside by the backside of a defender as he bent down. Again, a very tight call.
3. Aguero penalty retake (86)
Fabianski saved Sergio Aguero’s weakly hit penalty kick, before Declan Rice came in and cleared the ball. However, Rice was encroaching well into the area when the kick was taken and the VAR correctly ordered a retake.
One of the VAR’s responsibilities on a penalty kick is to check that the ball is not played by an encroaching player if it comes back out play.
Even though a Manchester City player was also in the area when the penalty was taken, encroachment is a defensive infringement when players from both teams are in the area.
West Ham’s official account incorrectly tweeted that the retake was ordered because Fabianski was off his line. VAR does not make any decision on the goalkeeper in the Premier League, it is left to the linesman as his sole responsibility on a penalty kick.
Crystal Palace 0-0 Everton
No red card for Milivojevic (35 minutes)
Selhurst Park got its first taste of VAR when play was halted for “Checking Red Card.” Luka Milivojevic had challenged Bernard for the ball and caught him on the thigh. However, VAR did not advise referee John Moss that he’s made a clear and obvious error so play continued — Milivojevic was also not booked, as is possible under VAR protocol.
When play is stopped for a red card check, the VAR will ask the referee to describe what he saw and explain why he came to his decision. If the VAR believes the referee has not seen the incident clearly, or missed something entirely, he can advise decision should be overturned (either to a red, or to withdraw a red). Referee Moss likely explained that he believed the high contact was accidental with both players going for the ball.
Also, the VAR will primarily look at the replay at normal speed to make the judgement as the referee would, and will use slow-motion replay only to determine point of contact.
This is all part of the “high bar” that the Premier League has set for overturning decisions. It is determined that the fast-paced nature of the English game should not be compromised if at all possible.
Note that if Moss had sent Milivojevic off, it is unlikely it would have been overturned as there would be clear reason to show the red card.
Watford 0-3 Brighton
No penalty awarded for handball (60 minutes)
Roberto Pereyra’s free kick was blocked in the wall by the arm of Glenn Murray, but referee Craig Pawson waved away appeals for a penalty.
VAR made a very quick check before clearing play to continue.
The Premier League will not apply the handball law to the absolute letter, as seen in the Champions League and World Cup. It says that decisions on handball will remain similar to the previous two seasons, when the very same interpretation has been applied as in the new law, around the arm being in an unnatural position.
While the ball certainly hit Murray’s arm, it was not away from his body or above his head. Though again, if a penalty had been awarded by Pawson the decision would likely have stood.
Again, it’s all about the high bar for changing a decision. However, there is definitely a very strong for this to be a penalty.
Leicester 0-0 Wolves
Dendoncker goal disallowed (51 minutes)
Leander Dendoncker thought he had put Wolves in front just after half-time from a corner. However, a VAR check showed that the ball had struck the arm of Willy Boly, before it fell to Dendoncker to score.
The handball law now says that if a player creates a goal-scoring opportunity by the ball hitting their arm, even if accidental, then it’s an automatic infringement.
Therefore, as soon as the VAR identified the ball had hit Boly’s arm, the goal was disallowed and the free kick awarded to Leicester.