In the first nine rounds of Premier League games – so 90 games – not a single penalty or red card was given by the video assistant referee.
This weekend, VAR awarded four penalties and a red card.
There has been a high bar this season for “clear and obvious errors”. While there has not been a formal change to that, officials seemed much more willing to change their decisions this weekend.
“The bar for changing referee decisions was too high and now it’s too low,” said former Wales midfielder Robbie Savage on BBC Radio 5 Live.
On Friday, Southampton’s Ryan Bertrand was dismissed in the 9-0 defeat by Leicester and on Saturday Aaron Connolly won a penalty for Brighton in their 3-2 win over Everton – both incidents were not spotted by the referee.
And then on Sunday, three penalties were all awarded by VAR, including two in one game. And there was a goal very controversially disallowed. So what happened and how did the managers react?
- Football Daily: Has VAR gone too lenient?
- What did VAR do on Saturday?
- What happened in the Premier League?
Manchester United get a penalty
United forward Daniel James tried to go past Norwich defender Ben Godfrey, who was chasing in a straight line for the ball. James went across Godfrey, who was sliding in.
Stuart Attwell did not award a penalty at the time but play was stopped when the ball went out for a throw-in moments later. After a two-minute delay, VAR decided it was a spot-kick.
Both managers disagreed with the decision.
“I disagree with the first one,” United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer told BBC Sport. “VAR is there to help but when it takes ages like the first penalty, it is not a clear and obvious error. When it took that long, it is a signal that it should not have been.”
Marcus Rashford’s penalty was saved by Tim Krul.
Solskjaer joked afterwards: “I’d be unhappy to get the first one against me, but Marcus did the honourable thing and missed it.”
Norwich manager Daniel Farke went even further, claiming it should have been a free-kick to his side: “It’s quite obvious it was a big mistake. The referee was right and it was Daniel James falling on the defender.
“We are all human beings but when you want to overrule the referee then you must be 100% sure he’s made a mistake.”
Palace get a penalty
There was an even bigger turnaround of a decision in Crystal Palace’s game against Arsenal.
Palace winger Wilfried Zaha went past Calum Chambers and then went down in the box, with referee Martin Atkinson booking him for diving.
But a VAR check of almost 90 seconds decided Chambers had fouled Zaha and a penalty was awarded, with the yellow card being rescinded.
Luka Milivojevic scored from the spot to start Palace’s comeback from 2-0 down to draw 2-2.
“I’m glad for Martin because if, in the pre-VAR days, that hadn’t been given then all the pundits and everyone would have said that was a clear penalty,” said Palace boss Roy Hodgson. “I thought it was clear and I’m pleased it got overturned.”
But Arsenal boss Unai Emery was not impressed, especially considering penalties he feels his side should have been awarded recently.
“I didn’t understand the referee and VAR reaction,” he told BBC Sport. “Last week they didn’t check VAR for a penalty for us but we respect that.
“Two weeks ago there is one penalty for Nicolas Pepe against Bournemouth, they didn’t check. I don’t understand.
“For me there is no confusion – it is not a good decision.”
United get another penalty
United’s second penalty was less controversial, although again not initially awarded by Attwell.
Todd Cantwell’s arms were raised as he blocked Fred’s shot on the edge of the box and the ball went out for what was initially given as a corner.
But after a delay of about a minute and a half, a penalty was awarded. It was a clear penalty with the new handball laws introduced in June – although perhaps the position of his arms might have taken longer to decide whether they were outside the box.
Anthony Martial’s penalty was saved by Krul.
Solskjaer thought both of United’s penalties “should be retaken because the keeper is a yard off his line”. VAR in the Premier League does not check for goalkeepers’ positions from penalties.
Fortunately for Solskjaer it was not too costly, with Rashford and Martial becoming the first team-mates to miss a penalty and score a goal each in the same Premier League game. United won 3-1.
And Arsenal felt they had a valid late winner disallowed against Crystal Palace.
Chambers appeared to be nudged over by a combination of Cheikhou Kouyate and Gary Cahill before the ball broke to Sokratis Papastathopoulos, who put the ball in the back of the net.
But Atkinson deemed Chambers had committed a foul and it was ruled out, despite Palace not even appearing to protest. It was over two minutes between Papastathopoulos “scoring” and the VAR check being over.
“I’ve seen it 406 times and I can’t see anything clear and obvious about that. I’d be fuming if that was given against me,” former Spurs striker Peter Crouch said on Match of the Day Two.
“We got another VAR decision that went our way at the end – there was a lot of pushing going on so I’m glad the right decision was made in the end,” said Palace boss Hodgson.
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Arsenal’s Emery added: “VAR said it was a foul but I checked it after and it’s a goal. That is not a foul. Who is the person who checked that?
“If the referee watched that action on the TV, I am sure he would not decide that it was a foul. In the office with the TV, I don’t know who the person is who decides this.”
On BBC Radio 5 Live’s 606 show, Savage thinks referees need to start using the pitchside monitor, which is frequently used in other competitions but has not been used once in the Premier League all season.
“If the referees are not encouraged to go to the monitor then what’s the point?” he said. “It’s the only league in the world where referees are not encouraged to go to the monitor. It’s ridiculous. The bar for changing referee decisions was too high and now it’s too low. There are too many decisions being overturned today.
“For the Sokratis ‘winner’, I have watched the VAR again. Chambers seems to get the ball and it’s not clear and obvious whether he did or he didn’t. I cannot tell and that means the VAR cannot tell so it is not a clear and obvious error from the referee.
“VAR is not going to go but it needs to be changed. It needs to be brought in when it’s perfect.”
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