The opening weekend of the English top flight itself produced instances where the technology would have been useful.
On 11th August 2018, football came back home as the newest season of the Premier League kicked-off with Manchester United recording a victory against Leicester City in a late game. With two gameweeks completed, something which has made for a concern is the league’s resistance to introducing the VAR technology this season. The Video Assistant Referee technology, which was recently used for competitions like the FA Cup or the Carabao Cup, was rejected by the Premier League clubs earlier this year due to them wanting more “testing” on it.
This is even more perplexing considering that the Bundesliga and Serie A have already played a whole season with limited controversies thanks to VAR, but a competitive league like the Premier League-which is famous for its controversies- not opting for VAR could cause even bigger problems this campaign. The Premier League referees came under heavy fire last season for some very questionable decisions in high-volatage matches, with fans urging the organizers to introduce VAR to bring some “fairness” into the games.
VAR was successfully used during the FIFA World Cup very recently and the use of it was also seen in the World Cup final, when France were awarded a penalty for a hand-ball which evaded the eyes of the referee. But, it seems like the Premier League sides are not yet ready to test the waters of VAR and might be actually scared at the thought of playing in a fair league.
But, some of the blatantly wrong decisions are too visible to ignore and some of the mistakes in high-profile games last season proved how there’s an immediate need for VAR in the Premier League. For instance, the game between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur in January, saw Spurs being awarded a questionable penalty, before which Harry Kane was clearly offside before being brought down by Loris Karius. This sparked outrage from manager Jurgen Klopp, who stressed the need to introduce VAR to avoid those kinds of incidents.
Watch: Kane’s questionable penalty ticked off Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp
But, that match itself wasn’t the only one to have seen poor decisions, with the Manchester United Vs Chelsea encounter at Old Trafford, this year, also seeing a clear goal from Alvaro Morata being wrongly overruled for offside. The game between Newcastle United and Crystal Palace in February also saw the Toons being robbed of a victory, thanks to the linesman awarding Palace a cheap penalty in the dying minutes of the match. Another glaring mistake was during Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s debut match for Arsenal, when he scored his first goal which was blatantly offside, but the linesman couldn’t spot it.
A stark incident which shocked many fans happened during Watford’s game against Southampton in January. In a manner similar to Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal, Watford midfielder Abdoulaye Doucouré blatantly scored a goal with the use of his hands to deny the Saints their first league win in 10 matches.
Southampton fans will have every reason to feel aggrieved when they see the replays later tonight… ????
— BT Sport Score (@btsportscore) January 13, 2018
After the game, even Watford captain Troy Deeney couldn’t believe that the goal was given and said, “If VAR had come in, we probably wouldn’t get that, but today we got it. It’s the luck of the draw.” It seems like too many Premier League matches are decided on “luck” these days, something which few teams don’t have the luxury of having go their way.
In a recent analytical report by ESPN, Intel and the University of Bath, it was revealed that Liverpool dropped 12 points last season in matches affected by wrongly disallowed goals or incorrect penalties and red cards. It also stated that Manchester United had won six points more due to decisions going in their favor and that Huddersfield Town should’ve been relegated instead of Stoke City. This research further explains how much of a factor “luck” plays in the Premier League. But, in this day and age, VAR is exactly the thing which keeps football a game to be won based on one’s ability and not their luck.
The Premier League stated in April that the top flight clubs had agreed upon advanced testing of VAR in the Cup competitions, but it would not be introduced in the Premier League. Many of the “big clubs” were actually against voting for the implementation of VAR and it seems like the PL clubs are themselves scared of having a fair jury on the sidelines. It’s because of this commotion that the Premier League is the most “competitive league in the world” and is full of excitement.
Mane’s visibly off-side strike highlights further need of VAR
The lack of VAR in the Premier League this season means that there will be no stopping questionable decisions. It means that more offside goals will not be disallowed, while crucial penalty decisions and bookings also being ignored. There was already controversy in Liverpool’s dominant 4-0 win over West Ham in the opening gameweek, when Sadio Mane was clearly seen to be in an offside position during his second goal. This has made many critics and fans once again voice the need for VAR.
It’s because there’s no VAR that we’re assured to have controversies in “big matches” and while all this adds to the thrill of the league, the fairness of the results dies a slow death. This means that the more clean Premier League clubs try to play, the more they’ll fail and that “clean and just football” will probably be shown the backdoor once again.