VAR Is Coming To The Premier League Next Season. Here’s How It Would Have Changed This Season.
After years of debate about the use of instant replay in soccer, the English Premier League announced plans to implement VAR, video assistant referees, for the 2019-20 season after clubs agreed to the change in a shareholder’s meeting last week.
The proliferation of VAR took a huge step forward during the World Cup over the summer by getting fans across the world accustomed to instant replay in the sport. Since then, most major leagues in Europe have implemented it. In England, VAR has been used in the FA and Carabao Cups this year and tested in the Premier League on a trial basis behind the scenes.
“Key learnings from VAR’s use in the FA and Carabao Cups, and other leagues across the world, were discussed in detail,” said a statement released by the Premier League, according to the Guardian. “The Premier League’s non-live testing programme will remain in place for the rest of this season, with a continued emphasis on those Saturday afternoons which have several matches being played concurrently, and developing a clear protocol for communicating VAR decisions to fans.”
Reviews of VAR’s use in English cups and the World Cup have been mixed. Proponents will say it’s an important step in the evolution of the sport and necessary to ensure winners and losers and actually won or lost. Detractors say the review process is cumbersome and slow, disrupting the flow of the game and robbing it of a human element.
Regardless of whichever side of that fault line you fall, one thing is certain: VAR will have a drastic effect on the league. To show that, let’s take a quick look at a few examples from this Premier League season where VAR could have changed the result of a match.
[Note: These all assume that the match official would have called for VAR and gotten the call correct. That’s a big assumption, which is a major reason why VAR has been so controversial.]
Crystal Palace 0-2 Liverpool
Liverpool began the 2018 season on a six-match winning streak, but that streak could’ve ended before it even got started had VAR been in place. With the score tied 0-0 in the first half of a Matchday 2 contest against Crystal Palace, Mamadou Sakho was judged to have tripped Mo Salah in the box just before halftime. Liverpool was awarded a penalty which was converted by James Miler, giving the Reds a 1-0 lead heading into halftime. Replay showed that Salah made a lot out of a nothing challenge.
Had the referee looked at that and changed the call, not only would the teams go into the half level, but Salah would likely have garnered a yellow card. Liverpool is a fantastic team and still managed to score another goal in stoppage time, so a win could have still been on the cards. But had the penalty not been given, Palace’s chances of getting a draw or a win would have drastically increased, and maybe Liverpool’s hot start to the season wouldn’t have been quite as blistering as it was.
Manchester City 1-1 Wolves
On Matchday 3, it was Manchester City that felt aggrieved. Recently promoted Wolves secured a point against the defending champions thanks to a clear handball from Willy Boly on his goal in the 57th minute. This one was a no-doubter on replay.
Unless the official was completely off his or her rocker, this goal would have come back immediately, which would have made Aymeric Laporte’s goal in the 69th minute a potential match winner instead of an equalizer. Those two points may not seem like much in August, but with the potential for a title race with Liverpool that could come down to the wire, they could mean the world in May.
Crystal Palace 2-2 Arsenal
If you’re a Crystal Palace supporter you have to be a VAR proponent by this point, because, once again, it’s the Eagles who get the short end of the stick thanks to the lack of replay. This time Arsenal was the beneficiary. With the match level at 1-1 in the 56th minute, Alexandre Lacazette headed a ball on to Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang who finished at the far post to take a 2-1 lead. However, upon review, you can see that Lacazette raised his arm to handle the ball, not head it, a clear handball.
Palace managed to secure an equalizer in the 83rd on their second penalty of the match, so they didn’t leave the match with nothing. However, the Eagles likely felt they should have left with everything. And a win for Palace instead of a draw would have had major ramifications for both clubs. As things stand, Palace is on the fringes of the drop zone, and those two extra points would have made their current position a bit more comfortable. For Arsenal, it would have been their first loss since dropping two to Man City and Chelsea in the opening weeks of the season, putting them a few points further from a coveted top-four spot.
Southampton 1-1 Watford
Our most recent example comes from just over a week ago. With table bottom-dwellers Southampton leading Watford, one of the surprise successes of the young season, 1-0 in the 68th, striker Charlie Austin appeared to score to take a 2-0 lead and put the game to bed. However, the official disallowed the goal, ruling defender Maya Yoshida offside. And while replay shows that Yoshida was in an offside position, it didn’t appear he could have any influence on the keeper from where he was standing. Jose Holebas scored about 14 minutes later to secure a draw from Watford.
It was a poor decision from the official, and it wasn’t the only one on the day. Earlier in the match, Nathaniel Chalobah was clattered in the box by Ryan Bertrand but denied a penalty. That was beside the point for Austin, who went on the most impassioned pro-VAR screed I’ve ever seen from a player. And while it doesn’t seem likely this rant alone would have swayed the owners, it is interesting that the clubs decided to implement VAR only days after a righteously indignant Austin put the whole league on blast for its failure to keep up with the times.
Wow… Charlie Austin is SEETHING!
— Match of the Day (@BBCMOTD) November 10, 2018