The Premier League’s usage of the Video Assistant Referee sparks debate each week, but how are judgments made and are they accurate?
Every weekend, we review the significant occurrences to analyze and clarify the process in light of the VAR protocol and the Rules of the Game.
Kovacic’s challenge of Ødegaard could result in a red card.
What transpired: In the 29th minute, Mateo Kovacic dived in to tackle Martin degaard and stud-taped the Arsenal midfielder right above the ankle. Michael Oliver, the referee, issued a yellow card right away, and John Brooks, the VAR, started looking for a red.
No red card, according to VAR.
Kovacic is fortunate to receive only a yellow card, as the judgment is on the verge of being reversed by the video assistant referee. A VAR would typically look for excessive force for serious foul play when a Manchester City midfielder is late and catches Anders Odegaard; examples include Malo Gusto’s red card for Chelsea against Aston Villa and Curtis Jones’ dismissal for Liverpool against Tottenham Hotspur.
In essence, after studying the incident for a considerable amount of time, Brooks determined that a yellow card wasn’t an undesirable disciplinary result. The fact that Kovacic’s contact was barely above the ankle is probably what kept him from receiving a red card. A booking for Kovacic is probably about accurate, but given the arbitrary nature of individual VAR decisions, on another day it might have been escalated to a red. With Jones, the contact was on the shin, and Gusto came with more power.
It can be difficult to assess the force and intensity of various challenges, therefore there will likely be apparent discrepancies until every tackle with contact above the boot receives a red card. The Independent Key Match Incidents Panel will probably rule that the VAR’s involvement in this matter wasn’t a clear and apparent error.
In another missed opportunity this season, Oliver was involved when VAR Tony Harrington neglected to inform him that Nathan Aké’s goal for Manchester City versus Fulham should have been disallowed for offside. Despite all the concerns that less seasoned referees are reluctant to challenge Oliver’s judgment, he didn’t take part in a single failed overturn last season. And Brooks, who disallowed a Man City goal against Chelsea at the close of last season, was the most recent VAR to warn Oliver that he should reverse a subjective judgement.
Six minutes later, Kovacic should have received a second yellow card for his charge on Declan Rice, but the VAR cannot intervene in disputed bookings. Oliver has evolved into a referee that makes an effort to keep 22 players on the field. During the 2017–18 English football season, Oliver only issued one red card, which was actually overturned on appeal, to Aston Villa’s Douglas Luiz for violent behavior toward Aleksandar Mitrovic. He dismissed eight players in 2021–2022 and hasn’t done so since Michael Keane for Everton at West Ham in April 2022 for two yellow cards.
Oliver may not have wanted to issue two yellow cards in short succession in the first half, and referee Peter Bankes handled the West Ham United vs. Newcastle United match similarly. After receiving a warning in the 16th minute, Bruno Guimares nearly immediately engaged in another possible yellow-card challenge on James Ward-Prowse. Bankes, like Oliver, decided not to show the red and kept his cards hidden in his pocket.
In the match against Tottenham last week, Diogo Jota received two yellow cards in short succession and was sent off. The Independent Key Match Incidents Panel determined that the second challenge didn’t meet the criteria for a caution. Some analogies to the Kovacic challenge were made, and possibly as a result of the panel referees’ remarks, this weekend’s officials were a little more forgiving.
With the exception of the error-filled previous weekend, virtually few occurrences that make the news are considered to be missed VAR interventions. For instance, to cite only two incidents from this season, Eddie Nketiah’s challenge on Manchester United goalie Cristian Romero or Cristian Romero’s handball against Tottenham Hotspur.