We are four gameweeks into the new Premier League season and VAR has never been more controversial.
A new programme hosted by former England striker Michael Owen and chief refereeing officer for the PGMOL Howard Webb called ‘Match Officials: Mic’d Up’ is being aired to explain to fans how referees and their VAR colleagues reach decisions.
It is fascinating to hear the process behind a VAR check. The broadcasting of decisions, their process and explanation will be an ongoing feature throughout the season.
Only time will tell if the programme calms or further enrages fans. By highlighting so many errors, as well as correct decisions, it may question the capability of the officials and could create more arguments than it resolves.
The transparency of the PGMOL review show at least tells fans how decisions were reached, but does not come close to ending the debate over VAR. If anything, it highlights obvious errors are still being made by match officials – on and off the pitch.
Here we analyse the four incidents reviewed by Webb on the first Mic’d Up show.
Andre Onana: Man United vs WolvesEmbed from Getty Images
On the opening weekend, Wolves came away from Old Trafford empty handed after losing 1-0 to Manchester United. Arguably, Wolves were the better side throughout the game having had numerous chances but they were undone by a Raphael Varane header. As the game went deep into injury time, Wolves threw the kitchen sink at United. The ball was swung into the United box and Craig Dawson won the header, however his team mate Sasa Kalajdzic was clattered by keeper Andre Onana.
Wolves’ players and staff appealed for a penalty, as they and many thought it was a clear foul. Referee Simon Hooper waved it away initially but the VAR team checked for a possible penalty. After a few moments of conferring, the decision of ‘no penalty’ was made, to the surprise of many.
As heard in the audio released, Dawson winning the header was a factor in the decision. If Kalajdzic had been the player to head the ball and then hit by Onana, the penalty would have been given. As the two players were going for the ball but made no contact, it was deemed to be a natural collision.
However, this incident was highlighted by Howard Webb as a mistake. He explained that Hooper should have been advised to go to the monitor and see the incident for himself, where a penalty would have been given. Quite rightly, Wolves can feel aggrieved. A huge talking point and not an ideal way to start the season for the VAR team.
Nathan Ake: Man City v FulhamEmbed from Getty Images
The match was level at 1-1 when Nathan Ake headed Manchester City in front from a corner just before half-time. Fulham were incensed even before replays showed City’s Manuel Akanji both in an offside opposition and blocking keeper Bernd Leno. Referee Michael Oliver waved away the penalty pleas and awaited a review from the VAR hub in Stockley Park.
We got to hear the debate which was centred around whether Akanji, clearly in an offside position, was also in the way of goalkeeper Leno. The VAR team came to the conclusion that the City centre-back’s positioning did not hamper Leno. The goal was given and City took the lead going into the break.
They went on to win 5-1, but Fulham can feel hard done by. Webb described the incident as a “clear mistake”, stating the goal should not have stood. Marco Silva’s team would have been level at half-time, and the game may have had a different outcome.
Kai Havertz: Arsenal v Manchester United
Arsenal’s crunch game with Manchester United was not short of drama, or VAR controversy. The game was level at 1-1 when Kai Havertz drove into the box and got inbetween Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Casemiro. Havertz hit the deck claiming he was fouled but referee Anthony Taylor gave the penalty.
VAR Jarred Gillett checked the decision and recommended an on-field review. He could be heard claiming contact had been initiated by the Arsenal forward. As Taylor jogged to the screen on the side of the pitch, he asked his VAR to tell him what he was about to see. Taylor decided to overturn his original decision.
Arsenal supporters might not agree, but the officials followed the correct protocols and Taylor was brave enough to correct his mistake.
Virgil Van Dijk: Newcastle v LiverpoolEmbed from Getty Images
Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk was shown a straight red card for a foul on Alexander Isak during Liverpool’s dramatic 2-1 win against Newcastle. Referee John Brooks very quickly made a decision to send off the Dutch centre-back claiming he had “gone through the man to play the ball”.
VAR checked the decision and swiftly agreed that it was a foul, but needed to check to see if Isak was onside. Brooks communicated to Van Dijk that if Isak was onside then Liverpool would be down to ten men. It was a tight call but Isak was deemed onside therefore Van Dijk was given his marching orders.
Webb agreed that the decisions made were correct given that Van Dijk had denied a clear goalscoring opportunity. If the same instance occurred inside the penalty area, a yellow card would have been the punishment for the offender.