VAR Watch: Triumph Or Tribulation As The Controversial System Arrives In The Premier League?

There were around 70 VAR decisions in the 2019/20 Premier League's opening weekend
13:47, 12 Aug 2019

“VAR Complete.” 

Those scarily robotic words ricocheting around Premier League stadia, something distinctly Kubrickian, not sounding at all out of place in Portal 2, could well become immortal by the 2019/20 season’s end.

Video Assistant Refereeing was adopted into the English top flight for the first gameweek of the Premier League and predictably stirred a substantial amount of debate, taking precedent on Match of the Day and dominating the conversation on social media.

The introduction of the system is a culmination of two years monitoring trials in other competitions and tournaments. Despite the curtain-raiser of Liverpool versus Norwich City on the Friday night, it wasn’t until Manchester City’s lunchtime fixture at West Ham where it first garnered attention for its real EPL inauguration. 

There were seven VAR checks at the London Stadium as the Hammers lost 5-0 to Pep Guardiola’s travelling side. Two decisions out of those seven checks were ultimately overturned.

After City saw a third goal disallowed, the Premier League champions would have felt aggrieved had their goalkeeper Ederson not made a series of stupendous saves in the immediate aftermath by a galvanised West Ham.

Going from 3-0 to a potential 2-1, away from home, may well have changed the course of the game and, as we saw the closeness of the top of the table battle last year, had an ultimate effect on the direction of the title. Gabriel Jesus may well have claimed a hat-trick had his second goal not been ruled out. The violation  - an offside decision against Raheem Sterling, by the most slithery of margins an eagle would have needed spectacles to have adjudged. 

Man City would go on to benefit from video assistance having been awarded a penalty after Riyad Mahrez was felled in the box. Sergio Agüero’s initial attempt was parried by Irons goalkeeper Łukasz Fabiański, the Argentine striker allowed another bite of the cherry, courtesy of a double-whammy of Fabiański moving prematurely off his rice and Declan Rice entering the box during the run-up.

The topsy-turvy / one hand giveth the other taketh away nature is likely to become incessant, and its non-partisan nature this it can be strongly argued will create an unprecedented equally beneficial level-playing field for the 20 teams in the top tier. Think, for example, of Sean Dyche and Burnley’s perpetual accusation of officials’ failure to award the Clarets a spot-kick; they received just two across the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons.

Screens are installed in every single stadium - bar Old Trafford and Anfield - to illustrate the decision-making process once one has been overturned. Aesthetically speaking, indeed the communicative factor was probably best suited, or to put it better, more smoothly aesthetically installed at the London Stadium; aside from Tottenham Hotspur’s new ground, the most recently opened. The gigantic screen behind the rambunctious bouncing Blues undoubtedly produced echoes of the recent drama at the Cricket World Cup.

VAR proved most detrimental in Wolves game against Leicester City, in what finished with points shared after a 0-0 draw at the King Power Stadium. Wolves defender Willy Boly was adjudged to have used part of his arm for his assist leading to teammate Leander Dendoncker’s goal. Those fans who had travelled East past Birmingham for the fixture were treated to a couple of minutes of euphoria before this was transposed to the Foxes. No winners, but those who had that sensation of loss rescinded treating it as such.

All the decisions given in the first week of the 2019/20 Premier League season were ultimately the ‘right’ decisions, wherein they followed the rules of the game exactly to the law of the letter but it could become increasingly obvious that it’s those spaces in between that account for a substantial portion of the sport’s appeal.