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The VAR Review: Spurs’ penalty claim, Chelsea disallowed goal

Written by on April 29, 2024

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

After each weekend 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 week’s VAR Review: Should Tottenham Hotspur have been awarded a penalty before Arsenal broke to score their second goal? Was the VAR right to disallow Chelsea’s late winner at Aston Villa? And a look at the incident involving Cody Gakpo and Alphonse Areola.


Possible penalty and disallowed goal: Trossard challenge on Kulusevski

What happened: Tottenham Hotspur forward Dejan Kulusevski moved into the area in the 26th minute but stumbled to the ground. It was unclear if there was any contact on the Spurs player, and referee Michael Oliver allowed play to continue. Arsenal immediately launched a counter-attack, with Kai Havertz playing in Bukayo Saka to score. (watch here)

VAR decision: No penalty, goal stands.

VAR review: It was a pivotal passage of play, as if the VAR had chosen to get involved, then Arsenal’s second goal would have been ruled out and Tottenham had the chance to equalise from the penalty spot.

Yet while we’ve seen penalties awarded on the field for this, they haven’t been given through VAR.

Two specific examples spring to mind, perhaps most memorable being Craig Pawson’s decision to award a penalty to Wolves and send off Arsenal defender David Luiz when he had made inadvertent contact with the trailing leg of Willian José. The Gunners lost an appeal against Luiz’s red card for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.

More along the lines of this incident was the spot kick awarded to Paul Pogba when his boot brushed the leg of Aston Villa’s Douglas Luiz, causing the Manchester United player to clip his own heels and go down in the area. The referee in that game just happened to be Oliver too.

Penalties can be awarded in this situation, as a defending player isn’t allowed to impede the movement of an attacker even if they haven’t made a challenge, otherwise it would give free rein to get close behind without attempting a tackle to stop their progress.

Though Kulusevski’s boot touches the leg of Trossard as he moves forward, it’s questionable whether this could ever be enough to be considered a clear and obvious error.

Possible offside: Van de Ven when scoring

What happened: Micky van de Ven thought he had equalised for Tottenham in the 22nd minute when firing home from close range — but there was a VAR check for offside. (watch here)

VAR decision: Goal disallowed.

VAR review: There are a few moving parts to this, though in VAR terms it was a clear decision with an obvious gap between the two lines for Van de Ven and the Arsenal defender, Gabriel.

The offside phase is set at the point Pedro Porro strikes the shot. Even though Takehiro Tomiyasu makes an attempted block, and the ball then comes off the head of Gabriel before it runs to Van de Ven, neither of these actions reset the phase to put the Tottenham player back onside.

The offside law requires a defender to make a “deliberate play” of the ball, yet this is about a player having the genuine expectation of a controlled outcome from their action. That doesn’t excuse a poor pass, but it does mean that an instinctive block of a shot hit with power cannot be considered a “deliberate play” — so Van de Ven remains active from the shot.

Possible penalty: Rice challenge on Davies

What happened: Ben Davies moved onto the ball in the 84th minute and went down after appearing to be kicked by Declan Rice. Referee Oliver immediately indicated there should be no penalty but very quickly the VAR, Jarred Gillett, sent him to the monitor for a penalty. (watch here)

VAR decision: Penalty, scored by Son Heung-Min.

VAR review: It’s a different incident to others we’ve seen in recent weeks, when there has been minimal contact on the boot of an attacker.

Rice is attempting to clear the ball, but isn’t fully aware that Davies is coming across. The ball comes off Daves’ left thigh, which takes the ball away from Rice who ends up kicking the Tottenham Hotspur player on his right thigh with the attempted clearance. Oliver must have believed there was little to no contact on Davies.

It’s only the second time Oliver has been sent to the pitchside monitor to change his decision this season — the other also coming at the same stadium to award a penalty to Chelsea and send off Spurs defender Cristian Romero.

Yet for all the talk about VAR’s being reluctant to send Oliver to the screen, the Premier League’s Key Match Incidents Panel has ruled that only one review has been missed in his games — when he shouldn’t have sent off Burnley’s Dara O’Shea at Everton earlier this month.


Possible disallowed goal: Challenge by Badiashile on Carlos

What happened: Chelsea thought they had scored a 95th-minute winner when Benoit Badiashile crossed for Axel Disasi, with goalkeeper Robin Olsen scoring an own goal as the header went in off his hand after rebounding from the bar. As the Chelsea players ran away to celebrate the goal was checked by the VAR, Chris Kavanagh, for a possible foul by Badiashile on Diego Carlos.

VAR decision: Goal disallowed.

VAR review: This caused a great deal of controversy, yet the VAR decision was quite straight-forward. We can discuss where the VAR places the line for normal football contact to become a foul: see the hands in the back of Gabriel by Joelinton before Anthony Gordon‘s goal for Newcastle against Arsenal, or Morgan Gibbs-White performing a similar move on Nélson Semedo before scoring for Nottingham Forest against Wolverhampton Wanderers — the goals stood in both cases.

The timing always has an influence, as the goal would have provided Chelsea with a late winning goal having come from two goals down with under half an hour to play. Boss Mauricio Pochettino said “we want to be the best league in the world it should be protecting the spectacle and the decision” — which effectively means he didn’t want such a dramatic late goal in his team’s favour to be ruled out, which is understandable.

It does look bad for VAR when there’s no immediate appeal by the fouled player — in fact it’s Matty Cash, who was close by, makes any kind of indication he feels there’s been an infringement — followed shortly afterwards by Carlos. Yet it’s hard to see how the VAR could ignore this level of contact, and it should have been given on field by referee Craig Pawson. Even though he had a clear view of the incident, his judgement was still incorrect — so this isn’t re-refereeing the game.

Carlos is waiting for the ball to drop so he can attempt to head it clear, and he was pushed off its path by Badiashile making a shoulder barge into his back — which enables the Chelsea player to cross and create the goal. If Disasi had made the challenge shoulder-to-shoulder that is more likely to be deemed a fair attempt to outmuscle his opponent.

Of course, swap this around and it’s Carlos knocking Badiashile off the path of the ball, would there be a penalty? Probably not, as the threshold for an attacking infringement, rightly or wrongly, is far lower than a defensive one.

There was a far greater case for a mistake in the VAR intervention to disallow Wolves’ equaliser against AFC Bournemouth on Wednesday, when Hwang Hee-Chan had a goal disallowed for a foul in the buildup by Matheus Cunha on Justin Kluivert — it was barely noticeable on the replays.


What happened: This wasn’t a situation for the VAR to get involved in, but worthy of discussion nonetheless.

West Ham United won a corner in the 85th minute, and after a shot by Ryan Gravenberch goalkeeper Alphonse Areola caught the ball on the line under pressure from Cody Gakpo.

Referee Anthony Taylor identified it as a foul but signalled for play to continue as Areola had control of the ball.

However, Areola appeared to land slightly awkwardly and initially went down holding his ankle, with Gakpo checking on him. This is where the breakdown in communication happened; Areola wasn’t looking at the referee as advantage was signalled.

Areola seems to believe that a free kick has been given in his favour, which appears to be obvious by the way he throws the ball forward with backspin preparing to kick long. However, Taylor played the advantage, so there was no free kick and Gakpo would have been within his rights to put the ball into the net.

The referee retains the right to manage the match in the spirit of the game, and he felt that if he’d failed to make the goalkeeper aware of the advantage it wasn’t fair for Gakpo to have that scoring chance — so he blew the whistle to stop play before the Liverpool striker got to the ball. As there was no goal, there’s nothing for the VAR to check or review.

It would have been avoided had Taylor just awarded the free kick, especially as the goalkeeper had gone down. It was the safer option. Also, if he had checked on Areola for a possible injury rather than retreating up the pitch it would have removed any ambiguity.

Taylor could also have just awarded the free kick at the point Areola tossed the ball forward, indicating no advantage. Instead, he allowed the medical staff to come on and check Areola and gave a dropped ball — the correct restart if the referee has deemed play has only been stopped to allow treatment for an injury.

If feels like Taylor attempted to rectify his mistake by rewinding to what he should have done — stopped play and addressed the possible injury to Areola.

We saw a similar kind of incident in the Champions League tie between Arsenal and Bayern Munich earlier this month. Goalkeeper David Raya had the ball in the centre of the six-yard box, with Gabriel to his left on the corner. The referee blew his whistle for the kick to be taken and Raya passed to Gabriel, who picked the ball up and placed it down again before passing it to Raya. While that incident technically should have been a penalty the referee ordered a retake. That involved a restart when the ball was dead, which wasn’t the case at West Ham, but again the referee applied the spirit of the game.


Possible penalty: Berge challenge on Garnacho

What happened: Alejandro Garnacho went down in the area in the 25th minute asking for a penalty for a challenge by Sander Berge, but referee John Brooks allowed play to continue.

VAR decision: No penalty.

VAR review: Although there was contact between Berge and Garnacho, the Burnley player clearly got a touch on the ball first. The nature of the challenge wasn’t careless or reckless, so the VAR won’t judge this to be a clear and obvious error.

Possible penalty: Onana challenge on Amdouni

What happened: Burnley were on the attack in the 85th minute when Manchester United midfielder Casemiro tried to head the ball back to goalkeeper André Onana but didn’t get enough on it, with Aaron Wan-Bissaka nodding it away. However, Onana had come rushing out to try to clear and collided with Zeki Amdouni. Referee Brooks didn’t give the penalty but it was checked by the VAR, Peter Bankes.

VAR decision: Penalty, scored by Amdouni.

VAR review: This was a near carbon copy of an incident in the first week of the season when Onana came out and clattered into Wolves striker Sasa Kalajdzic. On that occasion the VAR failed to get involved, an error which was immediately admitted by PGMOL.

Onana gets nowhere near playing the ball and takes out Amdouni; it’s worse than Kalajdzic as in this incident the goalkeeper connects with the head of the opponent.

There was also a collision between Manchester City goalkeeper Éderson and Nottingham Forest’s Willy Boly on Sunday, in that case both players were jumping in to challenge and it would be seen as a natural coming together.

Possible penalty: Handball by Vitinho

What happened: The game was into the 90th minute when Antony attempted a shot on goal, and the ball hit the arm of Burnley’s Vitinho. Referee Brooks wasn’t interested in a penalty.

VAR decision: No penalty.

VAR review: Vitinho had his hand very close to his side and the ball was hit against him from close range. The VAR won’t get involved to advise a penalty.

Man United will feel aggrieved considering the handball penalty given against Wan-Bissaka vs. Coventry City in the FA Cup semifinal last week, yet that was given on-field and not through a VAR review. Even so, if Vitinho’s had been given by the referee we should expect a review to overturn it.


Possible penalty overturn: Holgate challenge on Gordon

What happened: Newcastle United were awarded a penalty in the 58th minute when Mason Holgate was judged to have tripped Anthony Gordon as the forward entered the penalty area. It was checked by the VAR, Peter Bankes.

VAR decision: Penalty stands, scored by Alexander Isak.

VAR review: This was a close one for the VAR to make a judgement on; was the contact by Holgate on Gordon on the line or outside the area? It was very close to being overturned to a free kick.

Key is that referee Tony Harrington gave the penalty for the second contact, so the VAR has to make his judgement on where that took place — though it could be argued the first contact was the foul, and that was just outside the box.

Gordon has won many penalties this season by getting himself in front a defender and waiting for the contact. This isn’t the same as initiating, when a player moves their foot out of its natural line to give the impression that the defender has made a challenge.

Possible penalty overturn: Murphy challenge on Bogle

What happened: Referee Harrington awarded a penalty to Sheffield United in the 90th minute when Alex Murphy appeared to bundle over Jayden Bogle. Again, it was checked by the VAR.

VAR decision: Penalty cancelled.

VAR review: There could have been two reasons to overturn this penalty, though the clearest was that Murphy got the ball before the coming together caused Bogle to go to ground.

Even if Harrington hadn’t decided to cancel the foul and restart with a dropped ball, it could be argued that Murphy had to go through Bogle to get to the ball — though that contact would have been outside the area too.


Possible penalty: Barco challenge on Semenyo

What happened: Antoine Semenyo crossed into the area but was caught by a challenge from Valentín Barco. Referee Paul Tierney didn’t spot the nature of the challenge and play continued, with it being checked by the VAR, Chris Kavanagh.

VAR decision: No penalty.

VAR review: Barco’s challenge really should have led to a VAR review and a penalty kick. If a player jumps into a challenge and is doing so in front of the opponent, in essence to block a cross, then it’s more acceptable not to penalise it.

However, Barco is off the ground and jumps into the opponent, brining Semenyo down after he has released the cross. There is often a reluctance to penalise challenges after a ball has been released inside the area, usually if it’s a shot, but this tackle appeared to cross the line.


Possible penalty: Robinson challenge on Muñoz

What happened: Daniel Muñoz collected a pass from Jean-Philippe Mateta in the 10th minute, and went down as Antonee Robinson closed from behind. Referee Stuart Attwell ignored the claims for a penalty and restarted with a goal kick.

VAR decision: No penalty.

VAR review: There are similarities to an incident in the game between Brighton & Hove Albion and Manchester City on Thursday, when Joao Pedro went down under pressure from Josko Gvardiol.

There are genuine claims for a penalty in both cases, and if a spot kick had been awarded it wouldn’t have been overturned on review.

Yet VAR penalties haven’t been awarded for this kind of contact in the Premier League, with no clear challenge on the opponent and a valid argument for a coming together, or natural contact. But then is there really much difference to those penalties Gordon has been winning for Newcastle through on-field decisions?


Possible penalty: Handball by Tarkowski

What happened: Brentford won a corner in the 73rd minute, with Ivan Toney flicking the ball on at the near post. It ran harmlessly into the grasp of Jordan Pickford, but there a handball by James Tarkowski? It was checked by the VAR, Michael Oliver.

VAR decision: No penalty.

VAR review: It would have been almost impossible for referee Darren England and his on-field team to see this, and it needed a replay from behind the goal to identify touch of the hand of the Everton defender.

Much like the decision not to intervene on the possible handball by Ashley Young against Nottingham Forest last week, it shows how the VAR in the Premier League is only expected to get involved in the obvious handball offences when the arm is well away from the body or above the head.

It’s likely that like this kind of handball would be penalised in other leagues, especially LaLiga, but not in England with its more lenient approach.

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

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