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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of VAR

When VAR was first on the cards, everyone was excited, Referee mistakes would be cut out and the game would be ‘fairer.’ This has not been the case, fans have protested online about the use of VAR and it has caused pundits to question whether it is right for the game.

In February 2020 Sky Sports did a survey, only 1 in 25 football fans claimed that VAR had ‘worked very well’ (Probably a Varchester United fan ;)) They also asked the same to their pundits, with Stephen Warnock the only one saying VAR should be scrapped completely, However, the other 9 pundits suggested that VAR isn’t necessarily the problem, but it is the way it is used over here. There have been some suggestions that the Premier League/FA should look at the way the VAR is used in Germany or France. I think, I would tend to agree with the pundits, I think the VAR has to be improved, the offside rule, is at times, ridiculous with how marginal it can be, the handball rule is inconsistent and at times, It would be nice if the conversation between the referee on the pitch and the referees in the booth could be heard at times, this could help justify the decisions made and limit the fan unrest.

The Introduction of VAR, and life back in the Premier League has been a mixture of emotions for Aston Villa as a new side back in the top flight, after securing promotion via the play offs, who were fighting for every point possible, stats show that when you are down the wrong end of the table, things tend not go your way, Villa certainly had things that didn’t go their way in their first season back in the big time!

The first involvement was Aston Villa vs Burnley on 28th September where John McGinn had a goal ruled out on review as Conor Hourihane was adjudged to be offside in the buildup, in my opinion fair call, Hourihane did look offside, even though he was not the one scoring the goal, it was an offside decision nonetheless, without VAR this would have been a goal, but VAR was brought in to eradicate mistakes and this time it did the job.

After that, Villa travelled to Crystal Palace a few weeks later to play the Eagles at Selhurst Park. The game finished 1-0 to the Home side, with Villa being down to 10 men for more than half an hour, after Trezeguet got two yellow cards. With the game at 1-0, Villa were pushing late on for an equalizer. Grealish was running at the back-pedaling defenders, and was pushed by Wilfried Zaha on the edge of the penalty area, this then caused Grealish to lose balance and run into Gary Cahill. Both players ended up on the floor after the tangle, the loose ball then fell to Henri Lansbury who finished in neatly into the bottom corner, Villa have equalized. But no, Kevin Friend, the referee had already blown his whistle to signify that Jack Grealish had apparently dived. There is no evidence that Jack dived, he played the ball onto Lansbury and never claimed for a Penalty kick or a free kick after he went down, at the time the blame was pointed towards the referee, as it was understood VAR could not have got involved after the whistle had been blown, but since then on many occasions when it has suited the VAR, they have got involved, for example this season, Manchester United were awarded a penalty away at Brighton, after the final whistle had been blown!

The next incident with VAR went against us again against Brighton at home with Wesley being penalized for fouling Matt Ryan in the lead up to Conor Hourihane scoring however we took 3 points thanks to a very late and composed finish from full back Matt Targett.

On 14th December we had our first VAR call go in our favor away at Sheffield United with Villa being awarded a penalty following a hand ball by John Egan in the 76th minute. The usually reliable captain fantastic stepped up to see his penalty thunder back off the crossbar just our luck at that time of the season.

New years day away to Burnley in a must win game Villa started the game brilliantly taking the game to Burnley and deservedly take the lead through Wesley’s finish only for it to be ruled out by the finest of margins the officials got this one wrong, it was marginally onside. An incident that should have been reviewed but wasn’t was the horrific tackle on Wesley which left the big striker with a ruptured cruciate ligament which he is still recovering from now. In a game where it could of gone either way a reckless challenge by Bjorn Engels on Steven Bergwijn which was missed by the on field referee was penalized when carefully reviewed and a penalty was awarded which subsequently was brilliantly saved by Pepe Reina but scored the rebound and tipped the game back into Tottenham’s favor after a prolonged spell of pressure and Villa taking the lead and that was our last involvement in VAR until COVID 19 brought a halt to the season.

This gave Villa a chance to gather their thoughts and come together as a defensive unit and that’s where you saw the luck change as they were handed the biggest lifeline when the goal line technology stopped working for what seemed like a clear goal and a glaring mistake by Ørjan Nyland. Luckily for us the VAR worked in our favor, as they, like everyone else trusted that the Goal-Line Technology worked so they chose not to review.

VAR is a very controversial talking point I believe it is the right way to go but there needs to be more clarity with it, there are far too many inconsistencies with this until they are ironed out there will be many more talking points.

2020/2021 Season

The start of this season couldn’t have started better winning the first 4 games including the demolition of the reigning champions a game that will stay with Villa fans for the rest of their life and one to tell the Grandchildren about in years to come. However Villa have been extremely hard done by when it comes to VAR this started when we played Brighton at home where we were trailing thanks to goals from Solly March and Danny Welbeck. Villa appeared to have been given a lifeline in the dying embers of the game to get a point when Trezeguet appeared to be fouled by the eventual match winner March who had his head in his hands as Michael Oliver pointed to the spot to which VAR intervened and Oliver going against his original decision of penalty and Villa left the game empty handed, this should not have been overturned by the referee as it was clear this was not a clear and obvious error.

On Tuesday 1st December we travelled to West Ham in a game where we had several chances to kill the game which we didn’t take finding ourselves trailing 2-1 thanks to a Bowen header and Watkins missing from the spot after Trezeguet was fouled by Declan Rice. In the 90th minute a truly sensational ball into the box from the left hand side Watkins wrestled free from Ogbonna to guide the ball into the net only for VAR to rule it out for offside which was extremely harsh and cost us a point in a game which we should of took one if not three. This was a confusing one, because they drew the line when reviewing from his arm, when other times this season it has been done by the shoulder, if it was done by the shoulder Watkins would have been onside, and the goal stood.

Onto my last VAR decision, the same player involved when we travelled to bitter rivals West Brom this decision didn’t affect the game as we were comfortably 2-0 up against ten men following a horror tackle on Jack Grealish. Matty Cash whipped in a pinpoint delivery to which Ollie Watkins applied a tidy finish however very similar to what happened he was ruled offside by the slightest of margins. I feel this season VAR has been cruel towards us with marginal decisions going against us and Ollie Watkins who’s return of 6 league goals should be 8 and close to double figures which would be a great return for this stage in the season and our league position would have been strengthened by the points gained from the Brighton and West Ham games. In conclusion the offside and handball elements need to be looked at by the league to get some clarity and define clear and obvious mistakes. During these tough times Aston Villa’s resurgence has brought hope and happiness to us all and I hope this continues and you have enjoyed my piece on VAR.

The info below is collated from an ESPN article, this claims that interestingly, Villa would be no better off without the use of VAR, here is why:

Aston Villa 0

Overturns: 7 Rejected overturns: 1 Leading to goals for: 0 Disallowed goals for: 3 Leading to goals against: 0 Disallowed goals against: 2 Net goal score: -1 Subjective decisions for: 3 Subjective decisions against: 2 Net subjective score: +1 Penalties for / against: 0 / 0

Game: Fulham (A; Sept. 28) Incident: Bobby Decordova-Reid goal disallowed for foul in the build-up by Aleksandar Mitrovic, 56th minute - FOR

Game: Southampton (H; Nov. 1) Incident: Ezri Konsa own goal disallowed for offside against Che Adams, 3rd minute - FOR

Game: Arsenal (A; Nov. 8) Incident: John McGinn goal disallowed for offside against Ross Barkley, 1st minute - AGAINST

Game: Brighton (H; Nov. 21) Incident: Penalty rescinded after Solly March adjudged not to have fouled Trezeguet, 92nd minute - AGAINST

Game: West Ham (A; Nov. 30) Incident: Ollie Watkins goal disallowed for offside, 92nd minute - AGAINST

Game: West Brom (A; Dec. 20) Incident: Jake Livermore sent off for high tackle on Jack Grealish, 36th minute - FOR Incident: Ollie Watkins goal ruled out for offside, 72nd minute - AGAINST

Game: Crystal Palace (H; Dec. 26) Incident: Penalty review rejected by referee Anthony Taylor following Matty Cash challenge on Patrick van Aanholt, 24th minute - FOR

Dom Phillips | Edited by The AVFC Faithful

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