Repeat use of the video assistant referee (VAR) by referee Craig Pawson has led to soul searching about where the national game is headed. Predictability, the usual Luddites have been making the most noise as they vocalise their typical fear of change.
But contrary to base opinion, VAR is not here to ruin football. It will make the ‘Beautiful Game’ purer.
Much of the discord about its utilisation by Pawson was the time taken. There is no doubt the current system is clumsy as referees talk to the hub and run across the pitch to view replays, yet this is mostly a problem of perception.
A study by the International Football Association Board into 800 games in which VAR has been utilised judged that less than one per cent of time was lost to the new system. In contrast, 10 per cent was drained away in free-kicks – the usual gamesmanship about forming walls and retreating the correct distance being to blame.
The key challenge is to improve communication to football supporters about its use.
VAR won’t make officiating error free. Chelsea winger Willian can attest to that with his odd booking for simulation against Norwich, while the Bundesliga’s head of the fledgling system was sacked for bias.
But the Football Association have predicted it will cut the mistake rate in half, from four per cent to two per cent. Friday’s match is a perfect example of its judicious application.
If Pawson had not asked for help, two major wrong decisions would have occurred in the first 10 minutes. Correct calls are always worth the wait.
Football likes to think it stands apart. Yet, variations of VAR have enhanced sports from both codes of rugby to cricket, tennis to the NFL.
Broader use will lead to refinement, then acceptance.
Substitutions, extra time and the back-pass rule were once unwelcome interventions. Soon enough, VAR will join them as inextricable parts of the sport’s fabric.
Emre Can looks set for a Liverpool exit with boss Jurgen Klopp seemingly accepting a summer departure.
The Germany midfielder is into the last six months of his current contract with reports suggesting a switch to Juventus is likely.
The Serie A giants were exploring the possibility of bringing the 24-year-old to Italy in the January transfer window but Klopp has dismissed that entirely with Can set to leave on a free transfer in the summer.
“He’ll stay beyond the winter,” Klopp told DAZN. “Emre is still a young lad but he has developed into a great player and is very important for us.
“Sometimes a player just wants to sit out his contract. That’s not cool for the club, but there are moments in which you have to accept it.
“And as long as the player behaves like Emre does, then I have absolutely nothing to complain about. He gives everything he has and identifies with the club.”
Can was one of Liverpool’s poorest performers after they dumped out of the FA Cup in the fourth round by West Brom on Saturday.
I’m also a big Emre Can fan, but it’s not okay to have one exceptional game followed by two well below par ones.— John O'Sullivan (@NotoriousJOS) January 27, 2018
The German boss has failed to make it past the fourth-round stage of the competition as Reds boss and with Manchester City running away with the Premier League, the Champions League is now the club’s last shot at silverware this season.
They will face Porto in the last 16 with the first leg tie in Portugal next month.
Lionel Messi believes Neymar’s departure has paved the way for a more balanced Barcelona.
The La Liga leaders were dealt a devastating blow last summer when Ligue 1 giants Paris Saint-Germain sensationally activated the Brazilian’s €222million release clause.
The break up of Barca’s destructive “MSN” trio coupled with the club’s subsequent scrambled transfer business led to a bleak outlook ahead of the the 2017/18 campaign.
However, boss Ernesto Valverde has steered the club to an unbeaten 11-point lead in the Spanish top flight with the Blaugrana also looking strong in Europe.
And five-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi says they have actually benefited from Neymar’s exit.
“Without Neymar we are more balanced,” Messi told World Soccer.
“His departure meant a change in our way of playing, we lost a lot of attacking potential, but it helped in the defensive sense.
“We are currently very well armed in the midfield; this makes us stronger in defence.”
Messi's Dominance in La Liga 17-18 so far:— adí (@posicionMessi) January 28, 2018
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Barca meet Chelsea in the last 16 of the Champions League next month but the Argentine superstar considers another English side as serious contenders for European honours this season.
Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City have mirrored Barca in their dominating domestic form and the 30-year-old has tipped the runaway Premier League leaders for a first Champions League triumph.
“Manchester City are one of the strongest teams in the world at the moment,” he added. “The same goes for PSG.
“However, there’s a lot of football still to play and I don’t rule out Real Madrid yet as they have a lot of quality and experience. Then there’s Bayern Munich, another great team who will fight till the end. But right now, City and PSG are the best.”
Messi’s side are back in action on Sunday as they host Alaves before a tricky Copa del Rey semi-final first-leg clash against Valencia on Thursday.