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Liverpool, VAR and the truth about every decision this season

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VAR. The one and only.

You'd be hard pressed to find any technology brought into a sport to help, which has backfired so spectacularly with a series of shambolic performances.



It was introduced last season to help officials make better decisions during any game, with the ability to review goal/no goal, penalty/no penalty, direct red card and mistaken identity.



However, it seems to have led to more chaos and controversy than ever before with rules being changed at will in front of our eyes.



Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp - who was once a great advocate for the implementation of a Video Assistant Referee has come out this season to say he “wouldn’t be saying that again” - simply, because there are big issues with the system that need to be addressed and the Reds star attacker Mohamed Salah agreed saying "it kills the game" back in December.

So, we've taken a look at every incident or goal the Reds have been involved in so far this term in the Premier League, which the video assistant then directly affected, and highlighted a case for or against the decision.

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Liverpool and their dealings with VAR

The first VAR incident Liverpool encountered in the top flight this season was against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on September 20.

Sadio Mane was sent bursting through by Jordan Henderson, but the attacker was hauled down by Andreas Christensen.

Initially, referee Paul Tierney handed the Danish defender a yellow card but after consultation with VAR officials in Stockley Park, went over to check the pitchside monitor and upgraded his decision to a red.

Now, the ball was bouncing in front of Mane when Christensen wrapped his arms around the Senegal international and pulled him to the floor.

Christensen was the last man and, despite Kepa Arrizabalaga in the Chelsea goal coming out to meet the ball, the foul gave Mane no chance to reach it and an obvious goalscoring opportunity was denied.

On-pitch decision: Yellow card. VAR decision: Red card. In Liverpool's favour: Yes. The right decision: Yes, subjectively.

The next VAR incident involving Liverpool came almost one month later at Goodison Park against Everton on October 17.

In the final moments, Thiago Alcantara played a no-look pass through to Mane and he whipped the ball back into the area for Henderson to meet it first time and score.

Liverpool's Senegalese striker Sadio Mane reacts during the English Premier League football match between Everton and Liverpool at Goodison Park (Image: PETER BYRNE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The goal was initially given, but upon the VAR check, Mane was ruled offside.

The call was incredibly tight and Premier League bosses said "offside lines are drawn against the parts of the body of attacking and defending players that can be used to score goals".

The upper arm can be used to score a goal and the portion of the arm that would be under a shirt sleeve is used to work out offside, therefore in this instance showing the top of Mane's arm fractionally offside on the replay.

However, pictures circulated on social media after the game showing the ball had already left Thiago's foot when officials drew the offside lines.

VAR decision during Everton vs Liverpool (pic: BT Sport)

The current camera technology operates at 50 frames per second, which results in a picture of the action being taken every 0.02 seconds.

For offsides, those checking on decisions have to select a frame where contact with the ball has clearly been made.

This could arguably lead to tiny but potentially significant discrepancies - especially around extremely tight calls and the Premier League has previously explored the idea of building in some kind of tolerance level to assist with offside decisions of this nature.

But it is understood that FIFA are keen for a very strict approach when it comes to offside decisions - which gives those overseeing English football little room for manoeuvre on introducing some leeway.

On-pitch decision: Goal. VAR decision: No goal, offside. In Liverpool's favour: No. The right decision: Yes, just.

Liverpool only had to wait one week for VAR to get involved again with their match against Sheffield United on October 24.

After just 10 minutes, the Blades were awarded a free-kick for a foul on Ollie McBurnie by Fabinho.

However, the VAR looked at the incident and said it had taken place inside the area - therefore awarding a penalty, which was scored by Sander Berge.

The penalty decision against Liverpool in the clash with Sheffield United has been discussed by the Match of the Day pundits. (Image: (Photo by STU FORSTER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images))

Replays appeared to show Fabinho getting some of the ball during the challenge, but the Premier League confirmed that the foul was not part of the Video Assistant Referee's decision process.

They said "VAR only ruled on whether the incident was inside or outside the box, not on whether a foul took place or not."

On-pitch decision: Free-kick. VAR decision: Penalty. In Liverpool's favour: No. The right decision: Yes, in terms of where the incident took place but the foul is subjective.

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VAR was involved in the Reds clash with Sheffield United for a second time during that game, when Mohamed Salah scored - only for it to be ruled offside following adjudication from the technology.

It was a superb goal after he controlled Trent Alexander-Arnold's cross and poked home a volley, but his run was timed very slightly too early.

On-pitch decision: Goal. VAR decision: No goal. In Liverpool's favour: No. The right decision: Yes.

One more week passed and the Reds welcomed West Ham to Anfield, only for VAR to get involved again on October 31.

Mane took a shot, only to see it parried by Lukasz Fabianski, the attacker sprinted forward to try and take the ball away from the goalkeeper and defender Arthur Masuaku who had rushed back.

In doing so, the ball fell to Diogo Jota to strike home.

Diogo Jota scores Liverpool's winner against West Ham

After the goal was given, VAR decided that Mane had fouled Masuaku in the build-up to the goal and it was ruled out.

Mane did fly in, and his trailing back leg appeared to catch the defender before Jota strikes but it is a decision that could have gone either way.

On-pitch decision: Goal. VAR decision: No goal. In Liverpool's favour: No. The right decision: Yes, subjectively.

Liverpool would then travel to Manchester City on November 8 when the VAR was called into action again.

Kevin De Bruyne whipped the ball across, only for it to strike the arm of Joe Gomez and bounce out of play.

Referee Craig Pawson initially awarded a corner but VAR asked him to check the pitchside monitor and the officiating team decided a penalty should be awarded.

Now, the ball from De Bruyne was hit with venom and Gomez had no opportunity to get his arm out of the way. Furthermore, it was not in an unnatural position but the handball law at that stage of the season was so strict with defenders, almost any contact with the arm would result in a spot-kick.

Such laws have changed before our eyes this season and where once penalties were being given for very dubious handballs, they are no longer - leading to many issues around consistency.

On-pitch decision: Corner and no handball. VAR decision: Penalty and handball. In Liverpool's favour: No. The right decision: Yes, at the time when strictly following the initial laws, but 'no' with the rules in place now.

The Reds' game against Brighton on November 28 was the next contest in which VAR decided to rear its controversial head.

Salah scored after 35 minutes and the goal stood, until VAR decided he was offside by the very tightest of margins with the decision almost coming down to an opinion given how close it was.

Mohamed Salah's reaction to his goal against Brighton being checked by VAR (Image: BT Sport)

There were questions after the game about why, when such instances happen, VAR got involved - given that they're not really overturning a clear and obvious error like they try to do with penalties.

However, it's all to do with how strict offside rules currently are as per the directive from FIFA and the very tip of Salah's left boot appeared to be a pixel ahead of the line drawn from defender Ben White during the incident.

On-pitch decision: Goal. VAR decision: No goal, offside. In Liverpool's favour: No. The right decision: Yes, but possibly a subjective offside.

That was not the only time VAR got involved in that game, Mane was also ruled offside in the 85th minute after heading home a free-kick cross from Andy Robertson.

However, his run was mis-timed and the initial goal given was ruled out for offside.

On-pitch decision: Goal. VAR decision: No goal, offside. In Liverpool's favour: No. The right decision: Yes.

And then, in the 92nd minute the Seagulls were awarded a penalty - their second of the match - when Robertson was adjudged to have fouled Danny Welbeck inside the box.

Initially no decision had been made, with Robertson appearing to have cleared the ball but referee Stuart Attwell awarded the spot-kick after consulting the pitchside monitor when slow-motion replays showed the Scotland international just kicking the striker before getting the ball away.

Andy Robertson talks to referee Stuart Attwell as Danny Welbeck shakes his hand after the Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Liverpool

Former Premier League referee Chris Foy said it was a foul, and the right call for the referee to go over to the screen before making the decision - though did question whether it was a "clear error" not to award the spot-kick in real time.

There have been instances of a very similar nature to this in other Premier League games this season where a penalty has not been awarded.

On-pitch decision: No penalty. VAR decision: Penalty, foul. In Liverpool's favour: No. The right decision: Yes, subjectively.

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On December 6, Liverpool were finally on the end of a VAR decision in their favour against Wolves at Anfield.

The visitors were awarded a penalty when Mane, under pressure from Conor Coady, went to clear a cross in his own box with an overhead kick only for the defender to go to ground.

Referee Pawson pointed to the spot but overturned his decision after consultation with the pitchside monitor and VAR, which showed Mane making no contact with Coady.

There was a case to be made for a yellow card to be awarded for simulation but nothing was given.

On-pitch decision: Penalty. VAR decision: No penalty, contact not made. In Liverpool's favour: Yes. The right decision: Yes.

One week later and the VAR officials were smiling down on the Reds as they travelled to Fulham.

Fabinho tackled Ivan Cavaleiro in the penalty area after just 16 minutes when referee Andre Marriner pointed for a corner, but VAR ordered him to review the incident at the pitchside monitor, which often prompts a change in decision.

One angle of the replay showed Fabinho playing the ball while another appeared to show the Brazilian catching Cavaleiro's leg.

Andre Marriner consulted VAR after Fabinho's challenge on Ivan Cavalerio.

It took nearly three minutes but Marriner opted to stay with his decision of a corner.

The Professional Game Match Officials Board (PGMOL) said: "In the 16th minute of Fulham vs. Liverpool, Fabinho challenged Ivan Cavaleiro for the ball in the Fulham penalty area. The on-field decision was to award a corner.

"The VAR advised the referee to review the incident at the Referee Review Area for a potential penalty. He stayed with the on-field decision of corner as he felt that Fabinho got the ball, and there was no evidence of a clear and obvious error."

On-pitch decision: Corner. VAR decision: Corner, no penalty. In Liverpool's favour: Yes. The right decision: Yes, subjectively.

Incredibly, Jurgen Klopp's side had to wait more than a month before VAR intervened in a Premier League match but there were two involvements from the technology during their clash away at Tottenham on January 28.

Firstly, Son Heung-Min put the ball in the back of the net after just three minutes.

VAR, though, disallowed the effort - judging the South Korea international fractionally offside as he burst through with lines drawn from the back of his heel to Alexander-Arnold's upper arm.

Heung-Min Son scores a goal which is later disallowed due to offside following a VAR review during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool

Once again, it took time to come to a conclusion but as we have learnt by now, the strict offside rulings leave little room for marginal discrepancies and judging by the letter of the law, this was the right decision.

On-pitch decision: Goal. VAR decision: No goal, offside. In Liverpool's favour: Yes. The right decision: Yes, just.

In the same game, Salah scored in the 56th minute only for VAR to intervene and rule it out for a Roberto Firmino handball during the build-up.

Salah smashed the ball past Hugo Lloris from close-range following a fine counter-attacking move, but Firmino was ruled to have deliberately played the ball with his hand during a tussle with Eric Dier in midfield and it was chalked off.

Jon Moss, the man on VAR duty for the game, suggested to referee Martin Atkinson that he take a look at the controversial incident on the pitchside monitor.

The ball struck Firmino's hand but it didn't appear deliberate and it looked like the attacker was being fouled by Dier at the time, with the ball also appearing to hit the Spurs player's arm first.

Roberto Firmino of Liverpool scores their team's first goal past Hugo Lloris of Tottenham Hotspur during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool

However, the decision was given against Firmino and Tottenham were awarded with a free-kick in the centre of the pitch.

After the game former referee Mark Clattenburg said: "It came after a change from IFAB that a handball in the immediate build-up to a goal, accidental or not, would be disallowed.

"However, a handball in the build-up to a goal would not be reviewed unless it was deliberate. This fell into the category of deliberate."

On-pitch decision: Goal. VAR decision: No goal, deliberate handball. In Liverpool's favour: No. The right decision: Yes, technically but no in awarding Spurs a free-kick after the initial foul.

It was then Liverpool's match with Leicester on February 13 where VAR was used next in the top flight season.

Thiago fouled Harvey Barnes on the edge of the area with about 15 minutes of the game to go. Initially, a penalty was awarded but upon checking the location as to where the incident happened - the decision was downgraded to a free-kick.

On-pitch decision: Penalty. VAR decision: No penalty, foul outside the area. In Liverpool's favour: Yes. The right decision: Yes.

James Maddison scored from the resulting free-kick after Thiago's foul, whipping the ball into the net from the corner of the penalty area but Daniel Armartey was ruled offside after rushing towards the goal ahead of Firmino and it was ruled out.

However, VAR got involved and replays appeared to show that Amartey's sleeve was fractionally on the right side of Firmino's boot and the on-pitch decision was reversed.

Once again, it came down to miniscule fractions with an offside decision before a goal and once again caused all manner of controversy given that decisions seemingly hinged on opinions over offside rulings.

Even Klopp after the game said: "VAR should be completely objective, but it’s not."

On-pitch decision: No goal. VAR decision: Goal, no offside. In Liverpool's favour: No. The right decision: Yes, almost subjectively given the fractions involved and cameras angles used.

The Reds next VAR incident came against Everton at Anfield when Alexander-Arnold was adjudged to have brought down Dominic Calvert-Lewin in the area and referee Chris Kavanagh pointed to the spot.

The situation, in which Calvert-Lewin tried to reach a rebound after Alisson saved his initial effort but was tripped up by Alexander-Arnold who was prone on the ground after sliding to block the initial shot, was reviewed by Andre Marriner on VAR.

There was a great deal of controversy, but intent has been taken out of the Laws of the Game and so the decision stood.

There were arguments as to why Alexander-Arnold wasn't shown a red card after denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity too.

On-pitch decision: Penalty. VAR decision: Penalty. In Liverpool's favour: No. The right decision: Yes.

Finally, the latest intervention from the technology came against Chelsea when Timo Werner was sent bursting through via a long ball from Jorginho, the on-rushing Alisson mis-times his challenge and the striker was left to calmly slot the ball into an empty net.

Timo Werner of Chelsea takes on Liverpool's Alisson before finding the back of the net. (Image: Getty Images)

The goal was given, but after a VAR check Werner's arm was adjudged to be offside after pointing to where he wanted the ball with Andy Robertson at left-back just in front.

It was yet another ridiculously tight offside call and one that again caused much debate about how decisions are made.

On-pitch decision: Goal. VAR decision: No goal, offside. In Liverpool's favour: Yes. The right decision: Yes, techinally and almost subjectively again given fractions and cameras angles.

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VAR on the whole

Liverpool have been on both ends of some ridiculously tight calls and really, refereeing decisions over offside/onside should never be questioned as subjective but given the nature and fast pace of the game, this is always going to happen.

The Reds have seen 15 decisions overturned by VAR this season according to the brilliant tracking data on ESPN, while two overturn decisions have been rejected. Out of the 17 incidents, 11 have gone against Liverpool and six have gone for them.

That led to no goals scored for the defending Premier League champions and six goals being disallowed. It has also led to three goals being given against Klopp's side and two disallowed. That's an overall net goal total of minus seven.

There have also been inconsistencies in the way rules have been implemented this term, particularly with handball as highlighted above, but one thing that has remained a constant throughout, is that life has been sucked out of the game.

VAR is ruining the football experience for everyone involved and the once unbridled joy that met a goal is now more subdued in hope the men in black don't get involved.

Match referee Lee Mason checks the pitch side VAR screen before disallowing a penalty for Leicester City during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Everton at The King Power Stadium

It is a game so many have loved for as long as they can remember, but the recent introduction of VAR has decimated so much of the fun that comes with watching a match and the inconsistency in decisions can be staggering at times - surely not even the officiating teams can want it that way?

The powers that be have to look at this and fast, because amid an impossibly challenging year with fans unable to attend football matches they have somehow managed to make watching the game even worse.

And it’s not just Liverpool that have suffered, you could talk to a fan of almost any club in Europe and still struggle to find supporters in love with the VAR system in its current form.

Meanwhile, the game’s lawmakers have already proved rule changes can be made mid-season this term with the ‘softening’ of handball legislation so it really is time to address the oh-so technically accurate but very cold policing of VAR.

One sensible solution would be to copy both tennis and cricket in that both teams get a set number of reviews to use - if you get the review right with the help of VAR you keep it but if you get it wrong, that is lost and you have a more limited number to use in the rest of the game.

Another is simply allowing for tiny margins of error, what used to be known as 'benefit of doubt', like the width of a single line of pixels on a screen...

The big screen at Tottenham shows a message from VAR ruling out Mohamed Salah's goal for Liverpool. (Image: (Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images))

A time limit could even be put on any VAR decisions and should that overrun, the on-field refereeing decision is final, because technically a decision has been made anyway and a much more perfectly imperfect lovable game would come to be once more.

Whatever the case, solutions need to be found to improve the system, because VAR at the heart is not actually all bad.

It was brought in to leave officials, fans, players, pundits, managers and anyone in the game with no doubt about decisions and most of the time that does actually take place.

There is no bias involved and a will at the centre to make sure every decision is as near perfect as it can possibly be.

However, it just so happens that football is a relentlessly fast-moving game and there will be times where it is just too close to call given how quickly players move with such skill while the cameras follow.

At the moment, instances often result in a painstakingly slow process of the VAR officials forensically analysing every detail.

You can see why they take their time, of course, given the backlash refereeing teams would face if they rushed a decision to speed up the process and got it wrong.

And despite the ridiculous amount of time decisions take and the furore that often surrounds them, most are probably right.

Ultimately, getting decisions spot on is what VAR is there to do but what is being proved time and time again at the moment is that there needs to be a more consistent base from which it rules while changes need to be made (like the ones outlined here) to improve the system and experience for every dedicated fan on the planet.


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