VAR Review: Havertz penalty, Christie red, Haaland spot kick


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.

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In this week’s VAR Review: Should Kai Havertz‘s penalty have been overturned, and why wasn’t AFC Bournemouth‘s goal awarded or Ryan Christie sent off? Plus, why did Manchester City get their first penalty against Wolverhampton Wanderers?

Possible penalty overturn: Foul by Travers on Havertz

What happened: Arsenal were given the chance to take the lead in the 42nd minute when Havertz went down as goalkeeper Mark Travers came out. Referee David Coote pointed to the penalty spot and it was checked by the VAR, Peter Bankes.

VAR decision: Penalty stands, scored by Bukayo Saka.

VAR review: There are often games in which one team gets the rub of the green when it comes to truly subjective decisions, those that could go either way so won’t be overturned whatever the referee has given. In fact, in this very fixture last season it was Arsenal who felt the aggrieved party — five possible penalty situations weren’t given by the referee or the VAR. This time, Bournemouth will feel two key calls went against them.

Did Havertz play for the penalty? Absolutely. Does that mean it’s a clear and obvious error for the ref to give it? Not necessarily.

Indeed, last month, Liverpool‘s Harvey Elliott was awarded a penalty when Manchester United defender Aaron Wan-Bissaka rushed into a tackle with an outstretched leg; the attacker has no responsibility to hurdle the challenge. Of course, Havertz could have avoided Travers’ leg, but players accept contact to win spot kicks all the time. Granted, this is a more extreme example as Havertz drags his foot to ensure it happens, but the VAR isn’t going to get involved.

This is the nature of the way the protocol has been built, where soft penalties won’t be awarded in the VAR room but may be on the field — a discussion trend of this week’s review.

Possible red card: Challenge by Christie on Saka

What happened: Christie and Saka challenged for a bouncing ball in the 11th minute, with the Arsenal player going down holding his shin. Coote didn’t award a foul and waved for play to continue for a short time before allowing treatment. Was there a case for a red card?

VAR decision: No red card.

VAR review: It’s not the first time, nor will it be the last, that we discuss the different threshold for serious foul play in the Premier League. Christie would probably be sent off in other top European leagues.

Remarkably, Christie didn’t even concede a free kick, let alone be shown a yellow card. Christie was saved because both players are challenging high and there wasn’t a huge amount of contact (the officials won’t take into account that Saka’s leg was bloodied) or force, but he did get Saka with studs leading into the shin with a straight leg — meaning there’s a case for a red card.

Bankes ruled that the challenge was reckless and not dangerous, which should be a yellow card, not a red. The VAR can only send the referee to the monitor for a red, not a yellow — but it feels like the Premier League is tied up in knots when it comes to the high bar and a reluctance to make use of the monitor.

It doesn’t help that Fabio Vieira was sent off against Burnley in November for what looks to be similar contact — though that was a far clearer red card as the two players were not contesting a bouncing ball and, most importantly, the dismissal was given on the field by Michael Oliver.

It raises questions about the way VAR is operated in the Premier League. Coote had clearly not seen the challenge, and there’s the chance it could be a red card — yet he gets away with it completely because it doesn’t reach the Premier League’s exceptionally high bar for a dismissal.

There would be a far greater sense of justice if the bar was lowered a little and that, for instance, allowed the VAR to send the referee to the monitor for a potential missed red card when he hasn’t even acknowledged a foul. That would give the referee the chance to just show a yellow (the referee is in charge of all disciplinary outcomes once at the screen). That puts the control of the missed incident back with the referee, and not with the VAR.

This can happen several times a season in other leagues, yet not once in five seasons in the Premier League has the referee rejected a red-card review and shown a yellow. It further shows how the monitor is just a confirmation tool.

Of the 24 confirmed VAR errors this season, a quarter have related to serious foul play red cards — five that should have been given, and one rescinded.

The Premier League historically has fewer red cards than the other top European leagues, largely due to the greater physicality. This season, there have been 27 direct reds in the English top flight, that’s one every 13.19 games. France has the most with 50 red cards (every 5.7 matches), then Spain (55, 6.06), Germany (29, 9.90) and Serie A (32, 10.84).

Possible goal: No foul by Solanke on Raya

What happened: Bournemouth thought they had a way back into the game in the 73rd minute through Antoine Semenyo, but as soon as the ball crossed the line, Coote blew the whistle for an earlier foul by Dominic Solanke on Arsenal goalkeeper David Raya. Bankes again needed to take a look.

VAR decision: No goal.

VAR review: You can argue that this was as soft as the Havertz penalty, and Bournemouth boss Andoni Iraola had valid complaints — yet the VAR isn’t likely to overturn this once given. Again, with a lower bar it might be the kind of situation that goes to the monitor.

We’ve seen similar instances where there has been contact on the goalkeeper and the goal has been allowed to stand. But as usual, the weight is with the on-field decision, not creating consistency with previous on-field calls.

It’s not as clear cut as the decision to rule out Chelsea‘s late goal at Aston Villa last weekend, when Benoît Badiashile knocked into Diego Carlos and the goal was ruled out through VAR. But Solanke does appear to bump Raya off the line of the ball as it drops, meaning he doesn’t get a true fist to clear it.

Coote holds his whistle a short time until the shot from Semenyo crosses the line, which enables the VAR to check it.

Iraola said that if the goal was disallowed then there should have been a penalty for holding by William Saliba on Philip Billing just beforehand. The Arsenal player did grab Billing’s sleeve for a short time, but it wasn’t sustained and wouldn’t be enough for a VAR penalty.

As a side note, Coote was on VAR duty for Friday night’s match, and then the match referee for this Saturday lunchtime game. Surely such a quick turnaround of intensive duties can be avoided.

Possible penalty overturn: Foul by Aït-Nouri on Gvardiol

What happened: Man City were awarded a penalty in the 10th minute by referee Craig Pawson for a challenge by Rayan Aït-Nouri on Josko Gvardiol. The VAR, Stuart Attwell, checked to see if the decision was correct.

VAR decision: Penalty stands, scored by Erling Haaland.

VAR review: There’s no other way to dress this up: it was a bad on-field decision. There was contact by the defender on the attacker after a shot had been taken — but this is so rarely given as a penalty. Even if it is, it tends to be because of a clear reckless act (as was the case when Man City goalkeeper Éderson fouled Arsenal‘s Eddie Nketiah for a spot kick last season).

This was more of a coming together after Gvardiol had taken the shot. Pawson shouldn’t have awarded the spot kick, but once he has, there’s very little place for the VAR to go as Aït-Nouri goes into Gvardiol.

It shouldn’t be a penalty, but with the way VAR works, it’s never likely to get overturned.

Possible penalty: Challenge by Semedo on Haaland

What happened: Haaland ran through on goal in the 44th minute under pressure from Nélson Semedo. The striker seemed to get his shot all wrong and went down, but despite his appeals, the referee didn’t feel there was a penalty. The VAR checked the move.

VAR decision: Penalty, scored by Haaland.

VAR review: A clear decision for Attwell, and perhaps learnings from his failure to intervene on Ashley Young‘s foul on Callum Hudson-Odoi in Everton vs. Nottingham Forest on April 21.

Semedo kicks the right leg of Haaland as the striker is lining up to shoot, which sends him off his running line.

This would be classed as an attempt to challenge for the ball, so Semedo isn’t sent off.

Possible offside: Groß when scoring

What happened: Brighton & Hove Albion took the lead in the 68th minute when Pascal Groß finished off a pass from Igor Julio. However, as the home fans were celebrating, a check was already underway for a possible offside.

VAR decision: Goal disallowed.

VAR review: This looked close, with the cut of the grass making it look like the ball would be level with Groß.

Yet that was misleading, as the ball was level with the line of the 6-yard box, while the boot of Aston Villa defender Diego Carlos was marginally in front.

The VAR, Michael Oliver, still had to check both the ball and Carlos to be sure Groß was in front of both, which led to a longer review. It’s the kind of situation that semi-automated offside technology wouldn’t completely fix; the ball isn’t tracked, so the VAR would need to use the old system, which is still in place as a backup.

There was a clear gap between the attacking and defensive lines. While the vertical line to Groß may not appear to be straight, this is due the camera angles as the tech is mapped to the pitch.

Possible penalty overturn: Konsa foul on Adingra

What happened: Brighton were given the chance to score from the spot in the 85th minute when Simon Adingra went down under a challenge from Ezri Konsa. Referee Robert Jones pointed to the spot.

VAR decision: Penalty stands, scored on the rebound by Joao Pedro.

VAR review: Aston Villa boss Unai Emery was frustrated that this penalty was allowed to stand, especially as he had claims for a spot kick in the second minute for a challenge by Facundo Buonanotte on Morgan Rogers (watch here). It’s the perfect example of how VAR can produce different outcomes — one a penalty; the other not — for similar situations.

That said, the Adingra foul was quite similar to the VAR penalty given to Man City for Semedo’s challenge on Haaland, with the attacker’s right foot kicked as he was running.

Villa have a case for the earlier spot kick, but both players appeared to be running into the same space, so it’s one that would need to be given by the referee.

Possible penalty: Challenge by Gomez on Johnson

What happened: Tottenham Hotspur were searching for a way back into the game in the 87th minute when Richarlison‘s shot was saved and dropped to the back post. Joe Gomez stretched up to clear as Brennan Johnson attempted to get a header on goal. The Liverpool defender got his toe to the ball and Johnson crashed into the post. Was there a case for a penalty for a high foot? (Watch here.)

VAR decision: No penalty.

VAR review: When does a high boot really become a high boot? It’s a question Liverpool fans have been asking ever since the challenge by Man City’s Jérémy Doku on Alexis Mac Allister. That wasn’t given as a spot kick, and in this game, the VAR, John Brooks, chose to stick with the on-field decision of referee Paul Tierney.

In both cases, no penalty was given because the defending player played the ball, and there was minimal contact on the opponent; therefore it couldn’t be seen as a clear and obvious error.

Anywhere else on the pitch it would be a free kick, but such is the higher threshold for a foul in the penalty area (because it creates a free shot on goal with a high chance of scoring), referees usually want to be certain of the decision.

As contact was so slight and it had no effect on Johnson, do we want VAR penalties awarded for this? It would probably have been more controversial if given in this circumstance.

Possible penalty: Challenge by Mengi on McNeil

What happened: Dwight McNeil ran into the Luton Town box in the 15th minute, but went down when challenged by Teden Mengi. Referee Tim Robinson waved away the Everton midfielder’s penalty appeals.

VAR decision: No penalty.

VAR review: When is a defender standing on an attacker’s foot a VAR penalty? It’s a tough one to answer, because we have seen one given this season when Chelsea midfielder Enzo Fernández stood on the boot of Manchester United forward Antony.

Fernández moved in front of Antony’s running line, while in this game referee Robinson and the VAR, David Coote, would say Mengi accidently stepped on McNeil as they moved side by side. But it’s easy to see why the two situations could create a picture of inconsistency.

Yet the Premier League is adamant that contact on an attacker’s boot must have a real impact. When a move was made to limit soft VAR penalties at the start of the 2021-22 season, one example used was of Man City’s Riyad Mahrez being stepped on by a Wolves defender, and then theatrically going to ground. The VAR gave that spot kick, but the Premier League said it showed an exaggerated fall from the attacker and shouldn’t be given in the future.

McNeil didn’t go down theatrically, but it’s a close call whether there’s enough in it for a VAR overturn. It may be judged as a penalty on the field but not one to be given on review.

Liverpool wanted a penalty in similar circumstances when Cody Gakpo was stood on, yet the Netherlands international did go down theatrically.

Possible penalty: Challenge by Mengi on Branthwaite

What happened: Everton had a corner in the 20th minute, and as it came over, Jarrad Branthwaite went down under pressure from Mengi. It wasn’t spotted by referee Robinson and was checked by the VAR.

VAR decision: Penalty, scored by Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

VAR review: If there’s mutual holding by both players, that can often lead to a VAR review not taking place. This provides the perfect illustration of the opposite, with Branthwaite at no stage trying to grapple with his opponent and Mengi having both arms around his waist. There was no intention to play the ball by the Luton player, and it was an obvious VAR intervention.

Possible penalty: Challenge by Guimarães on Assignon

What happened: The game was goalless in the ninth minute when Lorenz Assignon moved into the area and went down under a challenge from Bruno Guimarães. Referee Anthony Taylor paid no interested to the appeals and the VAR, John Brooks, took a look.

VAR decision: No penalty.

VAR review: Last month Burnley wanted a spot kick against Brighton when Wilson Odobert appeared to be felled by Pervis Estupiñán. That looked a stronger claim, yet the Premier League’s Independent Key Match Incidents Panel unanimously voted that the VAR was right not to get involved.

Burnley have a case, as Guimarães takes a risk with his challenge and had a hand on Assignon’s back; it wouldn’t have been overturned if awarded.

Possible penalty overturn: Foul by Brownhill on Gordon

What happened: Newcastle were handed the chance to score a fourth goal in the 51st minute when Anthony Gordon was tripped by Josh Brownhill. The referee pointed to the spot.

VAR decision: Penalty stands, Alexander Isak shot saved by Aro Muric.

VAR review: Last week Dejan Kulusevski went down after his foot clipped Leandro Trossard‘s leg. This week, Gordon got a penalty after his trailing leg touched Brownhill and caused him to trip over his own heels. Brownhill did have a piece of Gordon’s shirt too.

As explained in last Monday’s VAR Review, these will only ever be given on field.

Some factual parts of this article include information provided by the Premier League and PGMOL.


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