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VAR’s teething problems: How it’s coping in the new Premier League era

Manchester City were denied three points against one of their closest competitors this weekend. Gabriel Jesus’ late winner was ruled out after Michael Oliver referred to VAR and deemed what appeared to be a completely accidental handball by Aymeric Laporte enough to rule out a winner.

City have now been denied two goals in their first two fixtures and after Pep Guardiola admitted that it was a fair ruling when they came crashing out of last seasons Champions League when Sergio Aguero was ruled offside; after this weekend his patience may be wearing thin.

VAR was introduced to football in an attempt to put an end to any controversial and incorrect decisions. This weekend in the Premier League VAR did anything but prevent controvesy and instead has begun to recieve criticism questioning its use in the game. There are questions over how it is implemented in games with players euphoric celebrations being cut-short by a finger on the earpiece, a look at a screen and overturning game-winning goals in an instant.

The technology cannot prevent players from wheeling away in celebration. If a player wants to perform any acrobatics or quirky dance moves they have learnt in the off-season then so be it. What it can prevent are any goals or decisions that should not stand from standing. Players and fans alike seem to be frustrated by having their celebrations cut short by a changed decision but if there is a substantial reason to deny a goal then it should be denied. Referees cannot counter what VAR shows with ‘the fans and players have already celebrated’ rule. They simply have to suck it up.

What they can argue against are the rules that VAR is implementing. Fans have turned their attention to the new rules on handball. The rule change is a very clear one and it is hard to criticise decisions that obide by it stating that “Any goal scored or created with the use of the hand or arm will be disallowed this season, even if it is accidental”. It is the latter part of the rule that the football world has a problem with. Accidental is the perfect word to describe Laporte’s involvement in the goal but referees can only do as they are told. The rule has been branded as “ridiculous” by Danny Murphy while Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan took to Twitter to criticise the rule stating “it only disadvantages the attacking team” showing an angle that appears to show the ball strike Oliver Skipp’s arm as well as Laporte’s.

Man City are not the only side to be effected by VAR. Wolves had a winner ruled out last week against Leicester after the ball hit Willy Bony before Leander Dendoncker found the back of the net. Nuno Espírito Santo went on to say it is ruining “the spirit of the game” while Brendan Rodgers said he was “a massive fan of VAR”. Rodgers reaction, although a joke, sums up the Premier League’s already tumultuous relationship with VAR. If the decision goes your way, your fans chant ‘VAR my lord!’ with glee until their winning goal is ruled out and VAR can go to hell.

While there are genuine issues with VAR, mainly surrounding the time that the game is interrupted for, dissatisfaction with a decision leading to arguments with the officials should not be an issue caused by VAR. Perhaps players and managers who commit these kinds of offences should be cautioned or punished after the game.

The system was something that was voted for by the majority of Premier League teams, with the desire for a fairer game. Now, just two weeks into the 2019/20 campaign and managers, players and fans are scrutinising its entire involvement in the game. No doubt every Premier League team will feel the wrath of VAR and protest at its unfairness but as stated, this will happen to every team.

It is not as if the decisions that VAR makes are incorrect either. While there are still a few things that need fixing, statistics show VAR to be a very accurate and helpful device. During the 2018 FIFA World Cup, when VAR was used at the competition for the first time, FIFA stated that during the group stage, 335 incidents were checked and helped achieve 99.3 per cent rate of correct decisions. How can fans argue against stats like that? VAR seems to be fulfilling its purpose very successfully.

Issues of timing (although the chanting between two sets of fans is entertaining as a neutral) and accuracy based on camera angles are the real concerns that should be complained about. No one wants to see a game that relies on its fluidity halted by overanalysing whose hand it hit first or whether a strikers toe had crept offside; especially when the camera angles cannot ensure that the decisions are 100% accurate. But when the rules are clear, which they are, any criticism of VAR just sounds like a group of bitter fans who are annoyed that they did not get their own way.

The fans seem to be the biggest issue that VAR is having since joining the Premier League but English football fans should be some of the most welcoming of the new technology. The amount of times we have felt hard done by in international tournaments, we should not complain. The Hand of God and Lampard’s goal against Germany are both examples of issues that new technology would fix.

VAR is new and is fresh in its teething process. Fans may forever remain disgruntled at decisions made by using the technology, but its fairness cannot be criticised. Perhaps after a few weeks when every team has been hard done by in some way by VAR then fans will just get on with it and anyway who complains will be on the receiving end of jibes from other sets of fans. While VAR is not entirely perfect yet, it is here to stay. Fans and teams can either accept it or forever moan about what could but probably shouldn’t have been.

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Premier League Table

# Team MP W D L P
1 Liverpool 16 15 1 0 46
2 Leicester City 16 12 2 2 38
3 Manchester City 16 10 2 4 32
4 Chelsea 16 9 2 5 29
5 Manchester United 16 6 6 4 24
6 Wolverhampton Wanderers 16 5 9 2 24
7 Tottenham Hotspur 16 6 5 5 23
8 Sheffield United 16 5 7 4 22
9 Crystal Palace 16 6 4 6 22
10 Newcastle United 16 6 4 6 22
11 Arsenal 15 4 7 4 19
12 Brighton & Hov… 16 5 4 7 19
13 Burnley 16 5 3 8 18
14 Everton 16 5 2 9 17
15 AFC Bournemouth 16 4 4 8 16
16 West Ham United 15 4 4 7 16
17 Aston Villa 16 4 3 9 15
18 Southampton 16 4 3 9 15
19 Norwich City 16 3 2 11 11
20 Watford 16 1 6 9 9

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