The Premier League is now in its third season of VAR. Video Assistant Referees were meant to take the controversy out of the game by providing an extra layer of help to EPL officials when making tricky calls, such as penalty claims, handballs and offside shouts.
Within days of VAR being implemented in English football’s top flight we saw controversy begin. This was partly down to confusion over the implementation of the system, and communication between officials, players, broadcasters and fans.
In the past two full campaigns, almost a third of all Premier League matches featured VAR intervention. Mercifully, however, we have already witnessed a drop of VAR controversy by nearly a quarter from the 2019/20 campaign.
Whether the controversy will continue into the 2021/22 season remains to be seen, but a strong VAR performance at Euro 2020 suggests officials are finally getting to grips with the technology – and how to implement it properly.
Premier League’s Most Controversial VAR Decisions
VAR was always going to be something of an experiment when it was introduced to Premier League football but officials perhaps weren’t expecting such arguments to stem from the technological advancement.
Yet rather than arguing whether the referee got it right in sending a player off – which is what fans used to do around a pint after the game – we now discuss whether the VAR decision was the correct one.
And so, UK bookmakers William Hill have crunched the numbers on every VAR decision in the Premier League to see which have caused the most controversy. By bringing in data from interventions, decisions and even social media reactions, William Hill have assigned a rating to all VAR incidents since 2019 and created their unique controversy scale.
Interestingly, Wolves (6.91) are the club that has been embroiled in the most controversial VAR incidents over the past two seasons. The top five is made up of Chelsea (6.5), Liverpool (6.34), Everton (6.25), Manchester United (6.19).
Here are the five Premier League VAR decisions that have so far courted the most attention. And usually not for the right reasons!
1. Kurt Zouma goal ruled out (Chelsea 0-2 Man Utd, February 2020)
Controversy rating: 10.07
The most controversial goal overseen by VAR was Kurt Zouma’s strike against Manchester United in February 2020 – which was chalked off thanks to Cesar Azpilicueta’s shove on Brandon Williams in the build-up, an act some Chelsea fans argued only happened because Fred pushed Azpilicueta!
That VAR decision ranked 10.7 on the controversy scale – perhaps because of the size of both fan bases watching the game. It is the sort of decision VAR may not make in the 2021/22 season, now the tweaked rules have come into play.
2. Pedro Neto goal ruled out (Liverpool 1-0 Wolves, December 2019)
Controversy rating: 10.05
VAR was still getting used to offsides when in December 2019 it confused pretty much everyone with a fresh ruling at Anfield. Jonny was not flagged for offside in the build-up to Pedro Neto's equaliser in front of the Kop, but the VAR ruled the former had been in an offside position.
What confused most fans was why the linesman hadn't flagged. It's taken time for us to realise that the assistant won't always flag if they aren't 100% certain the player is offside, as that could rule out a legitimate scoring chance or goal.
3. Aaron Cresswell yellow card (West Ham 4-0 Bournemouth, January 2020)
Controversy rating: 10.01
West Ham had this game in the bag when Aaron Cresswell went in for a challenge with Ryan Fraser. The West Ham man's studs were showing and he did clip his opponent, but Cresswell would argue he also won the ball. Referee Graham Scott gave an instant red which was then reduced to a yellow upon a VAR review.
4. Olivier Giroud goal ruled out (Chelsea 0-2 Manchester United, February 2020)
Controversy rating: 9.93
Chelsea had two goals ruled out in the same day at Stamford Bridge as the Red Devils took all three points back to Manchester. United were two up when Mason Mount whipped in a low cross for Olivier Giroud to head home at the near post. Chelsea thought they were back in the game but VAR revealed his foot was offside in the build-up.
5. Lys Mousset goal ruled out (Man City 2-0 Sheff Utd, December 2019)
Controversy rating: 9.79
Another close offside call that actually looked a lot more obvious in real time than when the lines were drawn. Lys Mousset ran clear of the Manchester City defence to score for Sheffield United, and Pep Guardiola went berserk.
The replay, however, suggests he was only a knee offside. While VAR got the decision correct, Guardiola's reaction and the surprise many TV viewers had when seeing just how close the decision was caused many to question their own judgement compared to the technology.
VAR Changes For 2021/22
The PGMOL has introduced some fresh changes to VAR for the current Premier League season in the hope that it will add at least 25 more goals onto the total scored across its 380 games.
For a start, the benefit of the doubt will be handed to the attacking player in the majority of situations, with thicker lines being used to determine offsides. The VAR team will also not interfere with "trivial offences" that take place on the field, while slight contact in the area won't now lead to penalties.
What's more, accidental handballs by team-mates in the lead-up to a goal won't be punished.
However, as part of the new rules, broadcasters will not be able to show the images used in making these decisions. That in itself could reduce the controversy, as TV viewers and fans in the stadium won't be able to see for themselves the incident the VAR officials are reviewing in super slow-mo.