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How VAR will be used in the Premier League

How VAR will be used in the Premier League

VAR is coming to the Premier League. We've already had a brief taster from its use in certain League Cup and FA Cup games last season, but now video technology will be used in all 380 games of the 2019/20 Premier League season.

While VAR has already been used in major competitions such as the World Cup, La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga, the Premier League will be doing some things slightly differently. Here, we take a look at what exactly Premier League fans can expect from VAR in the coming season.

When will it be used?

VAR will be used to rule on four major instances - goals, penalties, red cards and mistaken identity. Offsides in goal or penalty decisions will be given in the tightest of instances, even if the attacker has just a toe ahead of the defending player. Minor incidents such as corners will not be decided by video technology.

One of the most controversial aspects of VAR in the 2018/19 season was how it was used to judge handballs in the Champions League. PSG's Presnel Kimpembe and Danny Rose and Moussa Sissoko of Tottenham all conceded crucial handballs following video review. Each decision caused a stir among fans and pundits, with many arguing that the actions didn't constitute deliberate handball.

However, this will not be the case in the Premier League. Handball in England has traditionally been considered as a deliberate effort to block the ball, but the decisions in last season's Champions League were due to UEFA introducing a new rule that classes any unnatural action which makes the body bigger as handball.

The rule has now come into force across all competitions, but Mike Riley, managing director of the Professional Game Match Officials Ltd (PGMOL), has said that Premier League refs will not be as strict.

Riley said that "There are still areas of interpretation around the way the new handball has been written — effectively what you consider to be an unnatural position of hands and arms. In this country we have always said — and this is the players and managers saying it to us — that arms are part of the game and as long as you are not trying to extend your body to block a shot then there is more scope so that we don't penalise."

"What we don't want to create is a culture when defenders have to defend with their hands behind their back or where it is acceptable for attackers to try to drill the ball at their hand to win a penalty. We have worked to our guidelines for the last three or four seasons and by and large, people accept that's the interpretation we apply and I don't think that changes next season."

Another way in which the Premier League has said it will not be following other recent VAR trends is with penalty kicks. Earlier this summer, there were a number of controversial incidents in the Women's World Cup when saved penalties were retaken after video technology had been used to show the goalkeeper had moved off their line. In the Premier League, VAR will only be used in these situations if on-field officials make a blatant error.

This could cause potential tension with FIFA, which introduced the rule ahead of the Women's World Cup. Pierluigi Collina, FIFA's referee chief, has dismissed the suggestion that it would not apply to English football, saying: "The laws of the game are the same all over the world. What is written in the laws of the game has to be enforced in every [one] of the countries belonging to FIFA, and in every [one] of the competitions arranged by the member association of FIFA."

How often will it be used?

One of the main sources of criticism of VAR in places like Italy is that it is used with inconsistent frequency - either too often or too little. However, Riley has clarified that English referees will be instructed to use VAR sparingly in a bid to not disrupt the flow of typically fast-paced Premier League matches.

Riley commented: "Where you have to be careful is to not use VAR to re-referee the game. You have to trust the people out there on the field of play as the players do. What you also don't want to do, particularly in our game, is to disrupt the intensity or the flow of the match."

Another source of criticism of VAR has been how long it takes referees to review decisions, with there being a number of examples from the major leagues and World Cups of referees taking several minutes to review and decide. There was also an incident in last year's FA cup when referee Craig Pawson used VAR three times in one half, with one review taking almost three minutes.

Riley has clarified that this will not be the case in the Premier League, as English referees have been instructed to only use the video assistant in exceptional circumstances. "We have said the referee should not go to the pitchside monitor unless the VAR's decision is completely out from what he expects," Riley explained.

The PGMOL has carried out 69 trial matches, in which just 14 decisions have been changed using VAR. This, according to Riley, means that Premier League fans can expect a review just once every 5 games. Riley also said that the average delay is just 20 seconds, which suggests officials are making efforts to reduce VAR delays as much as possible.

What will the fans see?

Another source of frustration for fans attending matches in certain countries has been that they've been kept in the dark whilst VAR decisions are being made. The Premier League has taken steps to ensure fans are kept in the loop when incidents are being reviewed, which will alter fans' viewing experience.

Information about VAR checks will be displayed on big screens at the 18 Premier League grounds that have them. The screens won't show the video review, but rather inform fans of what's going on, such as ‘Checking goal'. If a decision is overturned, a replay will then be shown on the screen. At Anfield and Old Trafford - the two Premier League grounds that don't have big screens - information will be announced by the PA and displayed on the scoreboard. Video clips may also potentially be viewable via mobile apps.

Those watching at home will have a somewhat more enhanced view of the action, as they will be able to see exactly what the video referees are watching. This will include a full-screen view of the incident, as well as angle showing the officials in the VAR hub in west London, where all incidents will be assessed, reviewing the footage.

Will it work?

There's no doubt that, if used correctly, VAR makes football fairer, which can only be a good thing. According to research, a majority of Premier League fans are in favour of video technology. However, it can only work if it's implemented in the right way. Its use in Serie A, for example, has been criticised not only for the delays it causes but also for its consistent use.

There's no doubt that VAR will cause some controversial moments in the 2019/20 Premier League season - this is football, after all. Richard Masters, the Premier League's interim chief executive, has said that patience is required: "I have no doubt it'll create some controversy because it's about the big decisions but we're prepared for that."

"We're putting something new into the Premier League and if it needs to be refined or improved or tweaked we will look at it when the moment arises. We've got to let it happen first and keep an open mind about whether it's really working", Masters added.

These sentiments were echoed by Riley, who referred to VAR as the "most fundamental change in the game" that's happened in his lifetime. Riley added that it took cricket and rugby between five and ten years to develop video technology systems that truly enhanced the sports.

If Riley's comments prove true, there's no reason VAR can't be a huge success in English football. Ultimately, though, it's still a work in progress across world football and there are bound to be some tweaks needed. One thing's for sure - there's going to be plenty of drama along the way!



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