The VAR Review: Should Chelsea have been awarded two penalties at Liverpool?


Video Assistant Referee causes controversy every week in the Premier League, but how are decisions made, and are they correct?

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.

– How VAR decisions have affected every Prem club in 2023-24
– VAR in the Premier League: Ultimate guide

In this VAR Review: Chelsea had two penalty claims turned down at Anfield and Liverpool were given a spot kick, plus possible handball penalties for Everton and Aston Villa.


Possible penalty: Van Dijk foul on Gallagher

What happened: The game was in the sixth minute when Raheem Sterling played a ball into the box, which was collected by Conor Gallagher. He stepped forward and went to ground when moving past Virgil van Dijk. The ball ran through to goalkeeper Alisson Becker, and referee Paul Tierney signalled there was no foul (watch here.)

VAR decision: No penalty.

VAR review: The first of three penalty incidents for the VAR, John Brooks. There is contact between defender and attacker, but Van Dijk doesn’t really make a challenge on Gallagher. This doesn’t mean there can’t be a spot kick, but there’s not enough in this for a VAR decision.

There are similarities with the penalty Liverpool wanted against Fulham for Illia Zabarnyi’s challenge on Diogo Jota. The VAR didn’t intervene in that case, a decision unanimously supported by the Premier League’s Independent Key Match Incidents Panel.

If the referee had given the penalty it would have stood — but it’s not a clear and obvious error to give no spot kick. We’re going to hear about this a couple more times in the game.

Possible handball: Jota when scoring

What happened: Liverpool took the lead in the 23rd minute when Jota ran onto a pass from Conor Bradley to finish past Djordje Petrovic, but did the ball touch his arm before scoring? (watch here)

VAR decision: Goal stands.

VAR review: The VAR had a look at the goal from several angles, but there was no evidence of the ball touching Jota’s arm. Even a brush of it would have led to the goal being disallowed for accidental attacking handball.

It appears the ball came off Jota’s chest before it bounced forward for the Portuguese player to score.

Possible foul in the buildup to Bradley goal: Jota on Chilwell

What happened: Bradley doubled Liverpool’s lead in the 39th minute, but there was a tussle between Jota and Ben Chilwell in the buildup (watch here.)

VAR decision: Goal stands.

VAR review: If the VAR had judged this as a foul, then the goal could have been disallowed, as it would have affected Chilwell’s ability to challenge for the ball and stop the goal.

However, much like the Jarrod Bowen penalty claim for West Ham United against Sheffield United last month, there was holding taking place by both players before one player fell to the ground. There won’t be a VAR intervention in these circumstances, and indeed the Independent Panel unanimously supported the Bowen decision, too.

Jota was just onside, but if he hadn’t been, the goal would have been disallowed for interfering with another player. In the offside law it doesn’t have to be a foul, only impacting on an opponent from being able to get involved in the play.

Possible penalty overturn: Badiashile foul on Jota

What happened: Liverpool were awarded a penalty in the 45th minute when Van Dijk helped the ball on inside the area to Jota, who went to ground under a challenge from Benoit Badiashile. Referee Tierney pointed to the spot, which the VAR checked (watch here.)

VAR decision: Penalty stands, missed by Darwin Núñez.

VAR review: The second spot kick incident, this time given by the referee and again underlining the importance of the on-field call. It’s on the soft side, but once the VAR has clear evidence of Badiashile making contact with the top of Jota’s boot, it’s not going to be overturned.

Possible penalty: Van Dijk on Nkunku

What happened: Chelsea were on the attack in the 73rd minute when Mykhailo Mudryk played a short pass to Christopher Nkunku inside the area. The France international went to ground after a challenge from behind by Van Dijk, yet referee Tierney ignored the penalty claims and play continued (watch here.)

VAR decision: No penalty.

VAR review: This is where VAR will always frustrate fans, because two seemingly similar incidents — Jota and Nkunku — can have opposing outcomes.

There was definite contact by Van Dijk on Nkunku’s right boot, but because it wasn’t deemed significant enough to make the Chelsea player go down in the way he did it didn’t cross the threshold for a VAR intervention. Yet was there any difference to the contact on Jota for the penalty that was awarded?

If the penalty had been given by Tierney, the VAR wouldn’t have overturned it. As ever, VAR doesn’t intend to create consistency of decision-making on the pitch, only to intervene when there’s a clear error.

Nkunku didn’t help his case by the way he went to ground, which didn’t seem to be commensurate with the level of contact, rolling over a few times after falling.

There are several similar examples from across the season, including Arsenal’s claim for a spot kick against Aston Villa when Douglas Luiz kicked the boot of Gabriel Jesus. This, too, was backed by the Independent Panel.

Another example was the small amount of contact on Eberechi Eze from Everton defender Jarrad Branthwaite. Again a decision not advised to be changed by the VAR and supported by the Independent Panel due to the way the Crystal Palace forward went down.

And in October, Liverpool’s Luis Díaz wanted a when he felt he was caught by Everton defender Nathan Patterson. Again, the way he went down didn’t fit the level of contact and there was no VAR intervention.


Possible penalty: Handball by Robinson

What happened: Everton won a free kick in the 24th minute, which resulted in James Tarkowski hitting the bar. The ball then came off Antonee Robinson before Timothy Castagne stabbed it off the goal line. Referee Thomas Bramall allowed play to continue while the VAR, David Coote, checked for a possible handball.

VAR decision: No penalty.

VAR review: “Could you get it? You might do,” Everton manager Sean Dyche said after the game. “If it is given against you, you are not happy. If it is for you, you take one.”

It summed up not just this situation but most handball situations, with coaches, players and fans often confused about when a penalty will be given.

For Robinson, it’s all about the natural body position for what he’s doing — moving back towards goal and shaping for a hooked clearance off the line. When the ball clips the bar he has little to no time to react and while his arm wasn’t right by his side it wasn’t well out to the side, nor was it blocking a cross or shot.

There would have been a different outcome if Robinson’s arm was high, or fully outstretched to the side. Without a deliberate movement of the arm there’s unlikely to be a VAR intervention in this kind of situation.


Possible penalty: Handball by Burn

What happened: Matty Cash had a shot on goal in the 26th minute. The ball hit Dan Burn, with appeals for a penalty. Referee John Brooks waved away the claims, and it was checked by the VAR, Andy Madley.

VAR decision: No penalty.

VAR review: The perfect example of the ball hitting the arm of a defender when it’s close to the body.

There’s nothing that Burn could do to avoid the ball, and he is not creating a barrier for the shot by having the arm out.

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



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