Video Assistant Referee causes controversy every week in the Premier League, but how are decisions made, and are they correct?
After each weekend we take a look at the major incidents, to examine and explain the process both in terms of VAR protocol and the Laws of the Game.
Possible red card: Casemiro for violent conduct against Hughes
What happened: In the 67th minute, Jeff Schlupp fouled Antony close to the touch-line, and a melee ensued between the two sets of players. There was a lot of pushing and shoving, with referee Andre Marriner booking the Crystal Palace player for the foul and the Manchester United forward for his reaction. The VAR, Tony Harrington, looked through the incident in case the referee had missed anything, and advised a red-card review against Casemiro after the midfielder was shown to have both hands around the neck of Will Hughes.
VAR decision: Red card.
VAR review: When a referee is sent to the monitor, he is being told he should change his decision, rather than take a second look. So for all incidents, the VAR will show the referee the most incriminating evidence, because the role of the monitor is to effectively confirm the overturn. That’s why we so seldom see the referee reject the VAR’s advice. The referee remains in control of the process, and can request additional angles to confirm the decision.
That’s why Marriner is shown the one angle which suggested Casemiro’s actions were violent conduct — the use of excessive force or brutality when not challenging for the ball. The issue is that a second angle, not shown to Marriner, isn’t as conclusive. Marriner had his back to the incident, and hasn’t been able to make any assessment himself, so shouldn’t he be shown all available angles be used to give the referee the full picture?
United may appeal the red card, though probably don’t have much chance of success and Casemiro will serve a three-match ban. A player having both hands around the neck of an opponent is always going to look worse, which is why Casemiro came to the attention of the VAR and Jordan Ayew didn’t. United boss Erik ten Hag claimed Ayew should have been sent off after he had his hand on Fred‘s neck, though it was only one hand and not prolonged. The law does state violent conduct doesn’t apply if the force used was negligible. Fred himself also raised his hand to an opponent and wasn’t sent off for the same reason.
We saw a similar VAR red card two seasons ago when Arsenal‘s Granit Xhaka was sent off for grabbing the throat of Burnley’s Ashley Westwood. In that instance, the Gunners chose not to appeal and Xhaka served a suspension.
Possible penalty: Handball by Hughes
What happened: In the 7th minute, Marcus Rashford attempted to cross into the area and the ball hit Hughes — first on his left arm, tucked into his body, and then on his raised right arm. The ball went out for a throw-in, with Marriner ignoring calls for a penalty.
VAR decision: Penalty, scored by Bruno Fernandes.
VAR review: There’s a general misconception that if the ball deflects off the body onto the arm, there cannot be a handball offence. This confusion comes from the wording of the handball law, before it was simplified in 2022. That implied that any deflection would negate an offence, but that was never really the case. It can be a consideration when making a decision, but the position of the arm is the still most important factor.
There could be no handball offence for the ball hitting Hughes’ left arm, but the right arm is high above the shoulder in a position that shouldn’t be expected for the player’s body movement. For that reason, even with the deflection, it should be a handball offence.
United conceded a penalty against Real Sociedad in the Europa League when the ball came off the leg of Lisandro Martinez and onto his arm as he was sliding in to make a challenge, which the VAR did not overturn. That was a harsh decision compared to this, but another example of a penalty being awarded even with a deflection.
Possible penalty: Handball by Kilman
What happened: With the score 2-0 to Wolverhampton Wanderers in the 50th minute, Max Kilman blocked Naby Keita‘s shot just in front of the goal-line. However, hit the defender’s arm, and there was a VAR check for a penalty.
VAR decision: No penalty.
VAR review: This gives us the perfect comparison to the Hughes situation at Old Trafford, with this time the ball deflecting off the body and hitting the arm which is in a natural position by the side.
Keita’s shot was deflected onto Kilman by Andy Robertson from close range, and the ball rebounded off the defender’s stomach and onto his arm.
And here’s the key point about the deflection off the body. Even if the ball had hit Kilman directly on the arm, it’s still unlikely it would have been a penalty because the player’s arm is not making his body unnaturally bigger. It’s all about the arm position.
Also, as Craig Dawson is behind Kilman on the line he would likely have stopped the ball going into the goal, so there would be no red card for denying a goal.
Manchester City also wanted a penalty against Emerson Royal. It’s very uncertain the ball did hit the defender’s arm, but even if it did it was by his side and he was actually in the process of withdrawing it into his body, which is another exception against handball.
Possible penalty: Maupay foul on Gabriel
What happened: In the 65th minute, trailing 1-0, Arsenal were on the attack when Idrissa Gueye was brought down inside his own area by Gabriel. Referee David Coote gave the free kick to the home side, but there was a VAR check for a penalty with the Gunners claiming Gabriel was actually fouled by Neal Maupay, which caused the defender to fall into Gueye.
VAR decision: No penalty.
VAR review: Arsenal can consider themselves unlucky with this decision, because while Maupay is positioning his body to receive the loose ball there is a definite argument that he fouls Gabriel — even though he isn’t aware the Arsenal player is coming in from behind him.
The VAR, John Brooks, acknowledged there was contact, but not enough and considered that Everton had possession. The incident fell below the threshold required for a VAR intervention.
Maupay doesn’t just make a small amount of contact on Gabriel, he essentially places his right foot fully across the body of the Arsenal player, which pushes Gabriel’s left leg into his right. If Coote had awarded this as a penalty, there’s no chance it would have been overturned.
Howard Webb, the Premier League’s new chief refereeing officer, is eager for a VAR only to intervene when it’s absolutely clear there has been an error, hence a high threshold, but this incident must be right on the borderline.
Possible penalty: Foul by Lloris on Rodri
What happened: In the 93rd minute, Hugo Lloris came out to claim a cross by Jack Grealish. The goalkeeper got to the ball first but collided with Rodri, who had come for a header. There was a VAR check for a penalty (watch here.)
VAR decision: No penalty.
VAR review: Lloris getting to the ball first is important, but wouldn’t necessarily rule out a penalty if his challenge was deemed to be reckless. It’s also key that Rodri was not prevented from playing the ball. In an example like this, it would be considered normal football contact for the two players to come together.
We saw a similar VAR overturn at the World Cup, when Lionel Messi was awarded a dubious VAR penalty against Poland when goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny collided with the Argentina striker. The referee in that game, Danny Makkelie, was not given another match at the finals.
The only question for Lloris is the way his right arm comes around on Rodri, but that can be explained as a consequence of his movement.
Indeed, a similar situation at Newcastle United earlier this season saw a goal stand when Lloris came together with Callum Wilson, and the striker’s arm came around the goalkeeper after they had collided. Again, there was no VAR intervention.
Possible ball out of play: Willock goal
What happened: In the first minute of the match, Newcastle United thought they had the lead when Miguel Almiron pulled the ball back from the goal-line for Joe Willock to score. But did the ball go out of play?
VAR decision: Goal disallowed.
Here, we had the opposite situation, with the goal originally being awarded.
In both instances, it’s about the burden of proof. Even taking into the account the curvature of the ball, it seems certain that the whole of the ball had left the pitch before Almiron played it. A correct decision from the VAR, Neil Swarbrick.
Possible offside: Paqueta when scoring
VAR decision: Goal stands.
VAR review: You can’t be offside from a corner, so the only question for the VAR is whether Nayef Aguerd got a touch on the ball to create an offside phase. Replays showed that the flick-on actually came off a Newcastle player, Joelinton, so even though Paqueta was in an offside position when the ball is touched there can be no offence.
Possible penalty: Estupinan foul on Ouattara
What happened: In the 24th minute, Dango Ouattara broke through into the area but was muscled off the ball by Estupinan. Referee Craig Pawson waved away the Bournemouth player’s appeals for a penalty.
VAR decision: No penalty.
VAR review: This comes down to Estupinan’s challenge deemed to be fair, shoulder-on-shoulder. In this situation, you are allowed to try and use your strength to ease an opponent off the ball, even if you’re not attempting to play the ball.
As long as the challenge is shoulder-on-shoulder (taking into account the size of each player), it will deemed fair unless excessive force is used.
There’s little chance the VAR, Jarred Gillett, would tell the referee he’s got this wrong. Likewise, if Pawson gives the spot kick that also wouldn’t be considered a wrong decision. It’s a call which will always sit with the referee.
Possible offside: Johnson in buildup to goal
What happened: Forest scored the only goal of the game in the 14th minute when Brennan Johnson fired home after a free-kick routine. However, the forward appeared to be marginally offside in the move which led to the award of the free kick.
VAR decision: No intervention possible.
VAR review: Johnson may well have been offside when the ball is played through, but the VAR cannot review the phase of play which leads to a free kick.
Information provided by the Premier League and PGMOL was used in this story.