Video Assistant Referee causes controversy every week in the Premier League, but how are decisions made, and are they correct?
After each weekend we take a look at the major incidents to examine and explain the process both in terms of VAR protocol and the Laws of the Game.
– How VAR decisions affected every Prem club in 2022-23
– VAR’s wildest moments: Alisson’s two red cards in one game
– VAR in the Premier League: Ultimate guide
Possible offside: Ramsey on winning goal
What happened: In the 41st minute, Jacob Ramsey scored the only goal of the game. There was a check for offside against the Aston Villa player.
VAR decision: No offside, goal stands.
VAR review: A strange situation for fans, because on the face of it few would have considered an offside offence. The initial attempt by Ollie Watkins was palmed onto the crossbar by Southampton goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu, with the ball coming back out to Ramsey to score from close range.
Ramsey was undoubtedly in an offside position when Watkins headed the ball, but the goal stood because it was judged Mohammed Salisu deliberately played the ball with his head before it fell back to Ramsey.
But why did the review take a long time? This all comes down to what is considered a “deliberate play” of the ball, as redefined by football’s lawmakers, the IFAB, in the summer. It’s not as simple as Salisu merely touching the ball; he has to be in control of his actions.
The VAR, Paul Tierney, has a number of factors to consider to decide whether Salisu is indeed in control of the header, and thus resetting the offside phase and making Ramsey onside. One is whether the ball is sent off its natural trajectory, which it wasn’t. But more importantly, Salisu was not stretching or reaching for the ball, which would be a consideration for a lack of control; it’s for this reason Salisu was judged to have made a “deliberate play,” and Ramsey cannot be offside.
If Salisu had missed the ball, or if it had inadvertently hit him on the back before it bounced to Ramsey, the goal would have been disallowed for offside as the phase would not have reset.
VAR overturn: Penalty for handball against Lerma
What happened: In the 64th minute, Newcastle United’s Kieran Trippier tried to cross the ball into the box. It bounced off the arm of AFC Bournemouth’s Jefferson Lerma and went behind for a corner.
VAR decision: Penalty, handball by Lerma; scored by Alexander Isak.
VAR review: Trippier was immediately adamant that it should have been a penalty. The contact on Lerma’s arm was on the blind side of referee Craig Pawson, so it’s understandable he thought it should only be a corner (though the assistant referee was on that side of the pitch).
There will be questions over proximity, but the camera angle from behind clearly shows that Lerma moved his arm toward the path of the ball and created a barrier — key for the decision to award the spot kick and a correct one from the VAR, Stuart Attwell.
Penalty check: Sanchez foul on Justin
What happened: In just the fourth minute, referee Simon Hooper awarded Leicester a penalty for Davinson Sanchez’s challenge on James Justin (watch here.)
VAR decision: Penalty stands.
VAR review: Andre Marriner checked that there was a foul by Sanchez, and also that it was inside the area. The contact on the Leicester City player came just inside the box, so referee Hooper’s decision to award the penalty was correct.
Although Youri Tielemans’ first spot-kick attempt was saved by Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, he was off the line when the ball was struck, meaning Marriner was right to advise a retake. Second time around, Tielemans made no mistake.
Goal disallowed: Sanchez foul on Ward
What happened: Tottenham thought they had gone 3-1 up when Sanchez scored from a corner, but he was penalised for a foul on goalkeeper Danny Ward.
VAR decision: No goal.
VAR review: Though the VAR could have advised a goal because referee Hooper didn’t blow his whistle before the ball crossed the line, Sanchez clearly had an arm across the Leicester City goalkeeper and prevented him from being able to play the ball.
VAR overturn: No offside against Son
What happened: Son Heung-Min thought he had scored his hat-trick goal in the 86th minute only for the flag to go up for offside.
VAR decision: Goal
VAR review: Son was shown to be just behind the last defender, meaning he should be given onside. The Tottenham player didn’t even need the tolerance level on VAR offside which is afforded to an attacker.
Possible red card: Cook challenge on Willian
What happened: In the 27th minute with the score 1-0 to Nottingham Forest, Steve Cook brought down Willian on the edge of the area. Referee Jarred Gillett booked the defender.
VAR decision: No red card.
VAR review: This presents a good comparison of how similar incidents can result in different outcomes depending on the decision on the field of play.
There is certainly an argument that Cook could have been shown the red card as Willian was about to break into the area, but at the same time there is a question over the covering defender being able to get back and prevent the shot on goal. It’s for this reason a yellow card can be seen as an acceptable decision by the referee.
But let’s take a look at the red card shown to Nice defender Jean-Clair Todibo after just nine seconds against Angers in Ligue 1 on Sunday (watch here.)
In terms of Willian and Angers striker Abdallah Sima having an obvious goal-scoring opportunity, there’s little difference between the two. In fact, you could argue that Willian has the more obvious chance. There are more covering defenders for Sima, and he has further to go to goal. The VAR in the Ligue 1 game also decided the referee didn’t make a clear and obvious error.
Two similar incidents with two different outcomes based upon the referee’s initial decision, the perfect example of why VAR will never give the game consistency in decision making — even if we are using incidents from two different leagues.
Information provided by the Premier League and PGMOL was used in this story.