Dubai: Late goals, comeback victories and runaway leaders Liverpool’s winning run comes to an end. Yet it is those boffins in wee boxes high in the stadiums that have once again grabbed the attention of an action-packed Premier League weekend.
The dominant talking point over the nine games that took place on Saturday and Sunday in England was controversy over the use — or misuse — of VAR.
Aston Villa, Wolves, Burnley and Liverpool all saw goals chopped off — some more justified than others — while Tottenham eventually did not as the video replay judges heaped a big dollop of unwanted and unneeded farce on to an already contentious issue.
On Saturday, an incorrect graphic was sent to the big screen during Saturday’s 1-1 draw between Spurs and Watford, forcing the company that provides the VAR technology to apologise.
The late goal scored by Dele Alli for Tottenham went upstairs for review for a potential handball. It was eventually ruled that the goal had been correctly given and should stand.
Cue the mayhem as an apparent slip of the finger meant the big screen at the stadium showed a ‘no goal’ verdict.
VAR owners Hawk-Eye said: “We apologise to Spurs and Watford fans for the confusion caused. We are working to understand the root cause of this problem and propose a series of measures to ensure it won’t happen again.”
If they can’t get that right, one wonders what else they are getting wrong in their booth of TV screens and cutting-edge technology.
Watford were also out luck when Jan Vertonghen was not punished for bringing down Gerard Deulofeu inside the area.
“I was thinking VAR is objective, but now I am thinking it is something very subjective,” said Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores.
Elsewhere, the margins of calls were again called into question.
The Premier League has imposed an extremely high bar to overturn a referee’s initial ruling, which has come in for severe criticism as not only is it disrupting the game, it is ruling out perfectly good goals.
“I’m a big fan of it but it has to be used more wisely than that,” said manager Sean Dyche after Burnley were denied a late equaliser at Leicester for the slightest of touches by Chris Wood on Jonny Evans that would not even had received a second look anywhere else on the pitch.
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola took to dry humour, claiming his players must be diving as VAR rejected a number of clear penalties during their win over Crystal Palace.
And so to Sunday, where Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp was raging in the 1-1 draw at Old Trafford after for Manchester United’s goal was allowed to stand despite what looked like a “clear foul” in the build up. Victor Lindelof kicked the back of Divock Origi’s leg but play continued and Marcus Rashford eventually fired home.
Klopp said the way the technology is being used does not make “too much sense”.
Premier League rules allow VAR to overturn a referee’s decision in the case of a clear and obvious error. If this wasn’t one such case, I don’t know what is.
“They scored a goal that shows all the problems with VAR,” said Klopp.
“Mr. (Martin) Atkinson let the game run on because that is the protocol of VAR, and VAR shows there was contact and it was a foul. But we couldn’t change that. They still had 60 or 70 yards to run to score the goal, but it’s not cool.
“This is a problem we have to discuss. I was 100 per cent sure VAR would overrule.
One brownie point for VAR was the correct judgement in ruling out a potential equaliser for Liverpool before half-time, correctly spotting that Sadio Mane used his left arm to control the ball before putting the ball through David de Gea’s legs.
“Pretty much everything went against us today,” Klopp said. “But we still didn’t lose.”
VAR is again the big loser, but it is the teams who have to do without the points due to faults by those boffins in the wee boxes.
Everton 2 West Ham 0
Aston Villa 2 Brighton 1
Bournemouth 0 Norwich 0
Chelsea 1 Newcastle 0
Leicester 2 Burnley 1
Tottenham 1 Watford 1
Wolverhampton 1 Southampton 1
Crystal Palace 0 Man City 2
Man United 1 Liverpool 1