Football Features

Every VAR call from the opening weekend of the Premier League season – and how football reacted

By Steve Jennings

Published: 15:02, 13 August 2019

In any usual season, the first round of Premier League games can conjure its fair share of drama. Introduce VAR into the proceedings, however, and previous opening weekends suddenly look like dull affairs.

After a controversy-free curtain raiser between Liverpool and Norwich at Anfield on Friday night, VAR reared its head across the country on Saturday and Sunday as referees were in constant communication with Stockley Park.

A number of incidents were checked by the video assistant referees with five of the 10 matches producing talking points, both contentious and clear-cut.

So we’ve delved into the major VAR calls from the opening weekend and had a look at how the football world reacted.

West Ham United 0-5 Manchester City

Marginally offside Sterling thwarts Jesus goal

After putting Man City 2-0 up at West Ham, Raheem Sterling became the first player to fall foul of VAR in the Premier League. The England international made what looked like a perfectly-timed run in-behind the hosts’ backline and squared the ball to Jesus for City’s third goal of the afternoon.

But Stockley Park quickly got involved and ruled that Sterling was centimetres offside. The decision is evening more painful in hindsight following new reports suggesting VAR’s approach to offsides will be reviewed in the coming months, the idea being that players shouldn’t be penalised for being a small fraction offside.

On Twitter after the game, Sterling jokingly questioned what VAR has against him. The Englishman had previously seen what would have been a tie-winner in last season’s Champions League quarter-final against Tottenham Hotspur ruled out by VAR.

But speaking to reporters, the lethal 24-year-old nobly admitted that correct decisions are all that matter.

“It’s a bit difficult during the game because you want the goal to stand,” he said. “But at the end of the day, as long as the decision is right, that’s all that matters.”

There was plenty more debate on Twitter, however, with onlookers questioning whether the incident should have been reviewed in the first place and pointing out inconsistencies in opposing arguments.

Sterling redeems himself despite another review

Sterling later redeemed himself with two more goals, the second of which – a wonderful lob over Lukasz  Fabianski – went to VAR again, but this time it stood.

West Ham manager and former City boss Manuel Pellegrini was content with the VAR decisions at the London Stadium, especially when football is played at a faster pace than ever with players like Sterling constantly looking to break the offside trap.

Pellegrini said: “It is not easy to get used to it, but I think the result will be fairer if we use it in the right moments.

“Football is so fast today it is impossible for referees to see all. It will improve football.

“If it is for an important mistake, then maybe. If you are going to use it for every corner, you will find four penalties.”

Aguero gets lucky with retaken penalty

Before his third goal, Sterling was denied the chance to complete his hat-trick by Sergio Aguero, who stepped up to take a penalty after a short discussion with his eager teammate. Aguero missed the spot-kick to the delight of the West Ham fans and the frustration of Sterling, but the Argentinian was saved by VAR.

For what, at first, looked like a violation by Fabianski, Aguero was allowed to re-take his penalty. Fabianski was indeed at fault for failing to have part of one foot on the line at the time of Aguero’s strike, but the decision was actually a result of encroachment by Declan Rice. The midfielder had stepped into the box before the penalty was taken and cleared the ball after Fabianski’s save.

Associated Press journalist Rob Harris cleared up the confusion by relaying VAR HQ’s confirmation of encroachment being the issue, but that didn’t stop spectators from voicing their confusion and frustration.

Burnley 3-0 Southampton

Chris Wood tap-in ruled out by Barnes call

Ashley Barnes’ opening day didn’t get off to the best start. After squaring the ball to his strike partner Chris Wood for what should have been the opener against Southampton at Turf Moor, Barnes was ruled offside after a VAR referral. It was hardly controversial, though, as the decision turned out to be unquestionably correct.

Barnes went on to score the first two goals of the game, picking up where he left off last season with a well-taken double to hand Burnley three valuable early points.

Che Adams escapes punishment for risky tackle

Making his Southampton debut, Che Adams almost made it a day to remember for all the wrong reasons. The striker put in a risky tackle on Ben Mee, catching the Burnley defender just under the knee with his studs.

The incident went to VAR, but Adams’ tackle was adjudged to have been just about acceptable and no card was given. It was a debatable call by Stockley Park; on another day, they might have deemed Adams’ foot to be too high. Ultimately, though, the debutant escaped punishment, much to the bafflement of some on Twitter.

Gudmundsson goal stands after Bertrand challenge

Burnley’s third goal of the afternoon was scored by Johann Berg Gudmundsson, but it was almost disallowed for an alleged foul on Ryan Bertrand in the build-up. The goal stood, and after the game Burnley boss Sean Dyche spoke about the importance of playing to the whistle.

“The most important thing, we mentioned to the players, is to play to the whistle, get on with it and play that moment rather than delay and wait,” Dyche said. “I think what is at stake now is so important.

“We have been on the wrong end of decisions, mainly with penalties, and you can only hope it is going to clear those situations up.

“It is such a big thing now the Premier League that it needs as many right decisions as possible.”

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Crystal Palace 0-0 Everton

Milivojevic challenged deemed unworthy of a red card

Everton’s Morgan Schneiderlein was the only player dismissed on the opening weekend for two yellow cards, but Crystal Palace midfielder Luka Milivojevic could also have been sent for an early bath had VAR gone against him.

Last week, the Serbian said VAR “will be great” is used for obvious wrong decisions. He’ll certainly be happy with the technology’s introduction after Saturday.

With 10 minutes remaining in the first half at Selhurst Park, Milivojevic and Bernard challenged for a ball, with the Palace man catching his opponent on the thigh. No foul was given and VAR had decided referee Jon Moss did not make a clear and obvious error.

Everton fans, however, were not best pleased with the decision to let Milivojevic off the hook, believing his challenge on Bernard was worthy of a red card.

Watford 0-3 Brighton

Glenn Murray let off the hook despite use of arm

Graham Potter got off to the perfect start as Brighton manager, but it could have been very different had an early VAR call gone the other way at Vicarage Road.

A Roberto Pereyra free-kick appeared to strike the arm of Glenn Murray, and the Watford players were convinced they should have been awarded the penalty. It went to VAR, but the referee’s decision stood. Watford’s appeals were waved away and Brighton went on to win 3-0 comfortably.

The handball rule continues to cause more confusion than any other law in football, primarily because it seems to differ from competition to competition. Inevitably, Twitter had plenty of questions as to why Watford were not given a spot-kick.

Leicester 0-0 Wolves

Boly handball rules out Dendoncker’s deadlock breaker

Perhaps the most controversial VAR call of the weekend was the decision to rule out Leander Dendoncker’s goal for Wolves against Leicester because of a Willy Boly handball. The contact was clearly unintentional but goals will now be disallowed regardless of intent if the ball strikes a hand.

But critics still believe that’s unfair. The ball deflected onto the hand of Boly, who had no way of avoiding contact before Dendoncker found the net. The match ended goalless.

What’s more, Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo was not happy with the amount of time it took for a decision to be made on whether the goal would stand. Indeed, just about every perceived problem with VAR was at play in the incident at the King Power.

Espirito Santo said: “I didn’t see the images yet, but I’m concerned about the tempo.

“I’m concerned about the two minutes we celebrate, then we wait and then the Leicester fans celebrate a non-goal – this is not the spirit of the game.

“I must see the images. I trust VAR but I think it’s good for the referees to have dialogue, to explain what they saw and judge for the people and for the players who are involved to understand.

“With their mix of feelings, under stress and competition to settle down and play again – it’s an issue and it’s going to be an issue until everything is clear.

“Is it a handball? Six months ago that was a goal. These are the questions everybody is going to have, it’s causing discussions and we’re talking it now. We didn’t speak about this before.”