It was a frustrating day yesterday. Liverpool were poor for vast periods of the game, only really clicking into gear for the last twenty or so. Yet a curious narrative has developed since the full-time whistle, with many suggesting that Manchester United deserved to win and that Ole Gunnar Solksjaer played some sort of managerial masterclass. If his idea was to have two shots on target, less than forty percent possession and depend on the generosity of the referee to win, then I’m not convinced that it’s a winning strategy in the long-term. Despite how poor we were, and pretty much everybody agrees that we didn’t turn up, we still out-performed the home team in every metric except for goals. Quite why the Reds have such a mental block about playing at Old Trafford I’m not sure, but it is genuinely odd that we seem to have put the wrong boots on every time we go there under Jürgen Klopp.
— James Pearce (@JamesPearceLFC) October 20, 2019
To give Solksjaer his due, the Red Devils clearly had a plan, which was to disrupt our game as much as possible. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d told his players to kick, trip and foul us whenever we looked to be putting a move together in order to disrupt our flow. The only problem that they had in doing that was that Martin Atkinson refused to give any fouls against them. It’s difficult to build any sort of rhythm when you’re getting kicked all over the park and not receiving free-kicks but the opposition get a set-piece any time any of their players hits the deck. Too many people have spent time since the full-time whistle saying we ‘can’t blame the ref’ and that’s true to an extent. Yet the referee’s job is to uphold the laws of the game and ensure a level playing field, so if he doesn’t do that then you’re always going to be up against it. Atkinson was a disgrace, but what is the VAR there for if not to overturn the opening goal?
The Video Assistant Referee Has Been Misused From The Start
Anyone who has read any of my pieces or follows me on Twitter will know that I’ve been an advocate of the use of the Video Assistant Referee from the very start. Too often the men in the middle seem to be married to their own narrative before a ball is kicked, sticking to that once the match is underway. Jon Moss is too unfit to be a match referee, but as long as the Football Association continue to employ him then I want him to be given all of the help he can get so he doesn’t just guess the outcome when he’s unable to keep up with play. I thought that the VAR would do just that, but instead it has been poorly implemented from the very start. In essence, the decisions of the match referee have been made sacrosanct, with the VAR system simply being used to justify whatever random choice the referee has made. That is pointless in the extreme.
Clearly a foul. This ‘high threshold’ ambition of the @premierleague is doing far more harm than good.
Also, having watched so much excellent TMO use at the rugby World Cup, it’s so odd not being able to hear how the decision was reached…silence leads to speculation…
— Jake Humphrey (@mrjakehumphrey) October 20, 2019
There should be no shame in the match referee saying that he’s missed something. Premier League footballers are fitter than athletes and faster than most runners, so it’s not exactly shocking that middle-aged men can’t keep up with them. If we’re going to be stopping the game for them to have a chat with the Video Assistant Referee then they should at least be willing to take their advice. I’ve no idea how much truth there is in this, but rumours are that Martin Atkinson made clear in the PGMOL meeting that he didn’t want his on-field decisions being overturned. It wouldn’t be surprising if that was true, given the evident arrogance of the man. Referees wouldn’t have an issue with their assistants on the line flagging to say that they’ve spotted an infringement, so why is there such evident resistance to someone with the benefit of a camera doing the same thing?
It’s Not A Liverpool Issue
It’s natural to think that I’ve only suddenly got an issue with VAR because Liverpool were on the receiving end of a poor decision, but that’s not the case. A quick look through my Twitter feed will show that I turned against it in its current form as soon as it was evident that it wasn’t going to help the referees make decisions but instead just back them up. The decision not to overrule United’s goal yesterday was ludicrous, but it wasn’t even close to being the only ridiculous decision from the weekend. The Tottenham Hotspur versus Watford game continued two all by itself. Dele Alli’s goal would not have been scored if he hadn’t had his arm outstretched and controlled the ball with a mix of his arm and his shoulder, yet that stood. The Hornets should have had a penalty, meanwhile, when Jan Vertonghen decided to slide on on Gerard Deulofeu when the forward was bursting free into the box.
The Premier League has clearly issued edicts to the VAR team that they can’t overrule the referee’s decision this season. That’s not just a response to United’s goal. It’s happened countless times to other teams this season. And until that changes, VAR might as well not exist.
— Chris Hewitt (@ChrisHewittLFC) October 20, 2019
That’s about as stonewall a penalty as you can get, but the Video Assistant Referee stuck with the referee’s original decision not to award it. Andrew Beasley tweeted me the other day and pointed out that no penalty has yet been given by a VAR that wasn’t given by the match referee. Are we seriously suggesting that in the ninety games we’ve had so far not one of them has had a penalty that the referee has missed? The only logical explanation that I can think of is that the Football Association, Premier League and the Professional Game Match Officials Limited see the Video Assistant Referee as some sort of existential threat and are determined for it to fail. Nothing else makes much sense. It could be used as a tool to help the game become better and fairer, but the officials and those that represent them are too arrogant to allow that to be the case. It’s being used to back up the match referee, making it a waste of time.