Manchester United brought Liverpool’s winning start to the Premier League season to an end on Sunday afternoon at Old Trafford with plenty of VAR and referee controversy.
The Red Devils sc0red the game’s opener amid controversy as VAR and referee Martin Atkinson failed to overturn what appeared to be a foul on Liverpool’s Divock Origi. Manchester United won the ball following Lindelof’s challenge on Origi and scored from the ensuing counter-attack through Marcus Rashford. The goal was reviewed but stood as no clear foul was said to have been seen.
VAR came to the forefront once more when Liverpool’s Sadio Mane was rightfully ruled to have handled the ball prior to scoring an equaliser. The goal was overturned by VAR keeping the match at nil-nil. The use of VAR and Atkinson’s shocking decisions during the match made him the talking point of the fixture proved two things.
The first is the Premier League is happy to use VAR to overturn handballs and to confirm goals or penalties. The second is that at no time it appears the Premier League’s officials are willing to use VAR to overrule a mistake made by one of the referees no matter how obvious.
Atkinson missed the foul on Origi, which should have been fixed by VAR reviewing the play. Pundits Jamie Carragher and (gasp) Gary Neville both agreed that the foul occurred.
VAR not only took the headlines following Manchester United’s 1-1 draw with Liverpool, but it was at the forefront with Tottenham Hotspur and Watford. Dele Alli’s late equaliser against Watford was controversial following claims of handball which was not overturned. Earlier in the fixture, Gerard Deulofeu was brought down in the box by a clumsy tackle from Jan Vertonghen. The penalty was not given on the field nor was it awarded after a VAR review.
Even though it looked like a clear penalty, VAR once again showed it would not overturn a referee’s decision on the field.
One of the arguments about VAR in the Premier League specifically is that VAR officials will not overturn a referee’s decision on the pitch. Rather, they will simply confirm a call or no-call. This will prevent the undermining of officials around the league. Although it undermines the use of VAR.
If VAR is only going to be used to confirm a referee’s decision, then it is only being used to half of its potential.
Why is the Premier League leaving themselves open to criticism with VAR? The Premier League, and English football in general, has never seemed excited about the introduction of VAR to the sport. The league was one of the last of the major leagues to add VAR. Continued criticism of VAR could see the Premier League discontinue their use of it, which could ultimately play into the league reverting to life pre-VAR. Conspiracy theory? Yes!
VAR is a great addition to the Premier League. Unfortunately, the technology is more of a talking point for all the wrong reasons rather than making the game better like it did at the 2018 World Cup and it has in the Bundesliga and Serie A.