Football/Soccer

Soccer looking VAR too hard to find fault and conspiracies

Manchester City had some cause for complaint on Sunday - but they were beaten by the better team in Liverpool.

SO, riddle me this: Liverpool FC went into the weekend with a six-point lead over Manchester City, beat them – and yet their advantage at the top only increased to eight points? How’d they figure that out?!

Conspiracy against the Reds!

But what about Sadio Mane clearly diving to score Liverpool’s third goal in that match? He absolutely flung himself in the penalty area!

Cheat!

OK, that latter joke was doing the rounds on Sunday evening, but it’s surprising that the first theory wasn’t aired by some wing-nut, such is the level of hysteria surrounding soccer and Liverpool in particular, both for and against them.

There’s no doubt that the Reds have ridden their luck a little this season, but to suggest that losing just TWO of their last 58 league matches and four of their last 79 is down to fortune and favouritism from match officials (on and off the pitch) is utterly ludicrous.

Liverpool have become incredibly hard to beat in major matches. Indeed those last four league defeats have mostly come against major clubs, in Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, and… A prize for naming the other team which has beaten them in the Premier League from the start of 2018 (answer at the bottom of this page).

Even in their contentious victories in this campaign, against Sheffield United, Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur, and Aston Villa, Liverpool were the superior side on each and every occasion.

Indeed, the tinfoil-hat-wearing section of the Liverpool support had their own antennae sent tingling by a handball claim ignored against Villa defender Matt Targett and a Roberto Firmino ‘goal’ ruled out due to his armpit being offside.

The evidence presented by the Premier League to back up that latter decision was damned and dismissed as ‘made up’ from ‘re-done images’.

However, what’s totally lacking among many supporters is a sense of perspective – certainly many don’t understand it at all when it comes to viewing lines drawn from one side of the pitch to the other.

This column has been consistent (at least on this matter) in arguing that the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) would still lead to many arguments rather than settling them beyond dispute because it’s often dealing with matters of subjective opinion rather than objective facts.

Goal-line technology is now universally accepted as accurate and beyond reproach.

Yet it’s hard to see that there’ll ever be similar accuracy about offsides, handballs, and fouls.

One referee’s hard but fair challenge is another’s foul.

One referee’s view of an arm being in ‘an unnatural position’ might be seen by another as the player merely trying to keep his balance.

As for offside, where do you draw the line? Where do you start?

Those questions are meant literally.

The precise placement of the line, even allowing for correct perspective, could make the difference between onside and offside by a matter of millimetres.

Equally, moving the video on by a few frames around the moment when the ball is played forward might lead to a switch between ‘on’ and ‘off’.

When calls are that close, surely the benefit of the doubt should go to the attacking team?

What’s clear and obvious is that the match referee should review any contentious decisions – and make a rapid call himself on whether or not to change his mind. If a referee can’t see something that seriously alters his original opinion inside 30 seconds, or a minute at most, then he should stop looking and get one with the game.

VAR is tolerable, even enjoyable, in pubs or wherever people are watching matches on television, but it must be excruciating in the stadia.

How can it be right that one man – the VAR official - can effectively referee half a dozen or more matches at the same time?

At least that should ensure consistency of decision-making, but it could also lead to contentious calls queuing up like a traffic jam.

There’s also an argument that any replays should be watched in real time rather than slow motion, and not only because that would speed up the process.

Everything looks far worse, more exaggerated, in slow motion.

Take the most contentious moment at Anfield on Sunday, when an attempted cross from Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva ricocheted onto the arm of Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Slo-mo suggested that TAA had stretched his arm out to block the ball – but does anyone in their right mind think he would have done that deliberately? That he thought ‘I’ll see if I can get away with this, even though there are umpteen cameras covering every angle’?

It was pointed out the ball travelled almost eight-and-a-half yards – but not that it did so in less than a second.

Alexander-Arnold is very talented but I don’t believe he has the speed of thought and movement to react and deliberately prevent that ball going past him in such a short space of time, without also having the brain-power to realise that a referee might penalise him for such a deliberate act – and a handball has to be ‘deliberate’ to be punished.

Besides, given that a moment earlier the ball had struck Silva’s hand (even though that was undoubtedly, absolutely, accidental), any goal-scoring opportunity accruing would have been cancelled out.

Yes, that current handball law is ridiculous but given that it had also cancelled out a Mane ‘goal’ at Old Trafford because a dropping ball had struck his arm, it can’t only work against Liverpool, it has to also go in their favour - in the correct circumstances, of course.

Before any shouts of ‘bias’ against me, I’ve pointed out in print how daft it was that Manchester City ‘goals’ were disallowed this season for a ‘handball’ – when a dropping ball brushed off their player – and for an extremely marginal offside call.

There will always be mistakes made by officials, but at the moment everyone is looking far - VAR? - too hard to find fault.

# The other team to beat Liverpool in the Premier League since the start of 2018 was – Swansea, in January 2018.

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