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The Good, Bad, and Ugly of VAR in the English Premier League This Season

07 May 2020

By Alex Larsons Whether fans wanted it or not, the video assistant referee (VAR) came to the English Premier League this season. The one thing that can be said for sure about VAR is that its presence has been felt. 


While it was installed into the EPL to help reduce the amount of controversy, it’s merely altered the ways that things are controversial. It’s had an effect on those who bet on the Premier League, which anyone can do using the Bet365 bonus code


However, nearly a full season into the VAR experiment, it’s worthwhile looking at both the good and bad that has come of it and what needs to be changed.

The Good

Despite its bad reputation, VAR hasn’t been all bad. For starters, VAR is foolproof when it comes to making offsides decisions. The technology is advanced enough to freeze at the exact moment that a ball is played, allowing officials to determine if a player receiving the pass was in an offsides position or not. 


Even if the margin is tight, offsides calls become black and white, which means refs can get the call right every team. 


Meanwhile, assistant referees have adjusted well, keeping their flags down on tight calls, knowing that VAR can sort things out one way or another if a goal is called.


VAR has also helped officials to enforce the new handball rule in the Premier League that states that any touching by an attacking player on the arm or hand will be whistled, even if it’s accidental. 


On several occasions this season, goals have been taken back because VAR was able to determine that the ball struck a player’s arm or hand in the direct lead up to a goal. Those reversals are not always popular, but they do allow the game to be officiated by the book.

The Bad

Of course, in the eyes of most, the negative impact VAR has made on the game has outweighed the positives. It starts with a lack of consistency regarding the phrase “clear and obvious error.” 


Heading into the season, that was the magic phrase that would guide the Premier League in its first season with VAR. However, the deeper we get into the season, the further away from that phrase. 


At times, VAR has been used too frequently to re-officiate games while other times, clear and obvious errors weren’t overturned because VAR ruled that the match official had a clear view of what happened and just decided not to make the call. 


The lack of consistency is perhaps the most frustrating part of VAR. One would expect that to improve the more VAR is used, but that’s not been the case the deeper we get into the season. 


On top of that, on-field officials appear to be less confident in their calls, almost expecting VAR to bail them out if they make a mistake, which is not always the case and isn’t the job of the on-field referee.


There’s also been no question about VAR changing the pace and flow of games. Obviously, this is unavoidable to some extent for any sport that uses video review to get calls right. 


However, it impacts soccer in a different way because of how infrequently goals are scored. More importantly, every goal that’s scored is reviewed by VAR to some extent. 


Whenever a goal is scored, both players and fans have become somewhat subdued in their celebration, knowing there’s a chance that VAR will take it away. Needless to say, this goes against the spirit of the game. To some extent, VAR has taken the joy out of scoring goals.


The time it can take to conduct a video review has also become an issue. Even if the time spent reviewing a critical play is added during stoppage time, an extended halt in play can suck the air out of a stadium and take away the flow and rhythm of a game. 


As important as it is to get calls right, having players, coaches, and fans sitting and waiting, sometimes unaware of what’s being checked and why doesn’t do anyone any favors. Again, this is clearly against the spirit of the game.

What Needs to Change

Despite plenty of backlash and controversy, it’s unlikely that the Premier League will scrap VAR altogether. Like it or not, it’s here to stay. 


But there can be changes made to the system to reduce some of the problems. The first change is a time limit on replays. After a minute or two of looking at replays, enough time has passed to make a decision. 


There needs to be a hard cap on the amount of time a play is reviewed. If a decision can’t be reached in that time, the play will stand as called on the field.


Offsides calls, specifically, need to be addressed. VAR is literally splitting hairs on some offsides calls, taking way too much time to determine if any part of a person’s body was offsides by the smallest of margins. 


While this may technically be offside, it has no real impact on the play. Considering the amount of time it takes to determine if a player is offside by such small margins, it’s not worthwhile to alter calls that aren’t obvious based on one or two reviews.


Finally, match officials need to make better use of the pitch-side monitors. Ultimately, the on-field referee is the one in charge of the game. 


He was the one who made the initial call, and only he can determine if the replay shows something that he didn’t see in live-action. This will be the best way to get the call right, adhere to the phrase “clear and obvious,” and waste as little time as possible.


In the meantime, fans simply need to be patient while accepting that VAR is here to stay. Other leagues have slowly but surely become more efficient in their use of VAR after a few seasons. 


It stands to reason that things will improve with time, but fans need to be patient and put up with the imperfections of VAR in the Premier League a little longer.