It’s coming. VAR will be used in all 380 Premier League games this season, so we’ve put together a handy guide to answer your most pressing questions.
Will assistant referees ever raise their flag again? Can goalkeepers move a muscle at penalties? Will every ball to hand be penalised? And what on earth classes as a phase of play?
Liverpool vs Norwich
August 9, 2019, 7:00pm
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Don’t be left scratching your head. Here’s all you need to know about VAR’s use in the Premier League…
VAR: A bumpy ride aheadTop 20 moments PL fans would most like VAR to reviewHarry Kane’s penalty award in Spurs’ 1-0 win over Chelsea in the EFL Cup semi-final first leg came from an initial tight offside call, which the VAR deemed to be onside.
The VAR used a 2D line, which stopped at Kane’s foot and showed him onside. However, after the game Chelsea’s staff showed a separate angle and showed Kane’s body was leaning over in an offside position.
But don’t worry. Disparities like this will be cleared up for the 2019/20 season, with the Premier League adopting a 3D line, similar to that used in the Champions League. The 3D lines are far more agile in assessing offsides.
Will assistant referees still raise their flags?
If they see a clear offside offence, yes. However, as we’ve increasingly seen, in immediate goal-scoring chances the referee will delay the whistle until the outcome of that chance. The VAR will then check the offside.
Crucially, referees will stress that players must play to the whistle, not the flag.
Sounds fair. OK, subjective decisions: talk to me…
For example, the decision whether to show a red card for a tackle still comes down to perception.
A lot of weight is given to the referee’s initial, real-time perception of a tackle. If the referee acknowledges that a defender has gone in high and more or less describes what the VAR can see on screen, and still shows a yellow card, that decision is likely to stick, unless VAR shows the referee has missed a major characteristic of the tackle.
I’m getting there… what do you mean by the referee’s initial perception?
This is where it gets a bit complicated.
Because VAR only deals with “clear and obvious” errors or “serious missed incidents”, if a referee does see an incident, then describes that incident accurately and disciplines accordingly, it is difficult to overturn. That is, unless they’ve missed a characteristic of the incident that the VAR deems to be serious.
Former Premier League referee Mike Riley tells Sky Sports News that VAR will be ‘minimum interference and maximum benefit’
What sort of accuracy are the PL aiming for?
The Premier League have stressed VAR will not automatically bring 100 per cent accuracy. In fact, that may never be possible.
The current accuracy rate for key game incidents is 82 per cent, and the introduction of VAR will no doubt improve that. To what extent, we will discover as the season progresses.
What about the delay?
In Premier League testing, the average time for a VAR review (an overturned decision) has been 84 seconds.
There was a VAR review every five games, so over the course of a Premier League weekend, expect on average two VAR reviews. The Men’s World Cup averaged a review every 3.2 games, and the Women’s World Cup averaged a review every 1.9 games.
In terms of VAR checks – mainly goals, red cards and penalties – the Premier League averaged eight checks a game. That is about average across all competitions that use VAR, and those checks caused a 22-second delay to the entire game.
The Premier League also want to use the Referee Review Area (RRA), or the pitchside screen, sparingly, which should speed up the process significantly.
Will fans inside the stadium be more in the loop?
In 18 of the 20 Premier League grounds, big screens will signify that the VAR is in use, what decision it is in use for, and what the outcome is, with a short clip showing the final incident.
At Anfield and Old Trafford, the only two Premier League grounds without big screens, the scoreboard and pitch-side advertising boards will be implemented for text, as well as PA announcements.
The Premier League was also investigating the possibility of messages and video-clips being viewed on handheld devices via an app.
So, the PL are finally adopting VAR. Will its use differ to other competitions?
Yes. The Premier League are the last major league or competition to use VAR. Their aim is to maintain the pace and tempo that makes the Premier League so watchable.
The main thing to note is that Premier League referees have been ordered to set a “higher bar” for deciding when they need to use the pitch-side review area.
This is encouraging, and should reduce the repeated breaks in play we saw at the 2019 Women’s World Cup, where referees regularly jogged across to monitors to double-check decisions. Presnel Kimpembe was the unlucky man as Diogo Dalot’s shot from around six yards away hit his arm, which was at a 45 degree angle beside him.
Many strongly felt greater clarity was needed for referees when it comes to handballs, so IFAB (International Football Association Board) has reworded the rules.
Deliberate handball remains a foul, but a free kick will be awarded in the following scenarios, even if accidental:
The ball goes into the goal after touching an attacking player’s hand or armA player gains control/possession of the ball after it touches their hand/arm and then scores, or creates a goal-scoring opportunityA ball touches a player’s hand/arm which has made their body unnaturally biggerThe ball touches a player’s hand/arm when it is above their shoulder (unless the player has deliberately played the ball which then touches their hand/arm)
However, the following will not usually be a free kick unless they are one of the above situations:
The ball touches a player’s hand/arm directly from their own head/body/foot or the head/body/foot of another player who is close/nearThe ball touches a player’s hand/arm which is close to their body and has not made their body unnaturally biggerA player is falling and the ball touches their hand/arm when it is between their body and the ground to support the body (but not extended to make the body bigger)
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Please don’t tell me the goalkeeper’s positioning at a penalty will be scrutinised like it was at the Women’s World Cup?
Don’t worry. VAR won’t rule on the goalkeeper’s position at penalties in the Premier League next season.
Goalkeeper’s position at penalty kicks will be left to the on-field officials during the match; they want to avoid a situation where every penalty could be reviewed to check the goalkeeper’s position.