Review of Video Assistant Referee system after contentious Premier League debut

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The Video Assistant Referee system was a major talking point on its first weekend in Premier League action.

Manchester City and Wolves each had a goal disallowed by VAR, although City’s luck evened out when their later penalty was retaken having been saved.

Here, PA looks at the key incidents involving the new technology across the opening weekend.

Sterling shoulders the burden of first call

There was widespread disbelief as Manchester City were denied what would have been their third goal – and Gabriel Jesus’ second – after VAR ruled Raheem Sterling offside by the narrowest possible margin in the build-up, with his left shoulder just beyond the last defender.

Offside decisions are not subject to the same “clear and obvious error” caveat as other uses of the review system and this could be one area leading to a lot of stoppages and marginal reviews.

“We’re going to have to play with our hands chopped off”

So said Wolves captain Conor Coady, who was far from impressed after VAR denied his side a winner at Leicester.

Leander Dendoncker fired home after his initial header struck the arm of team-mate Willy Boly, whose back was turned, at point-blank range. As with offside, there are no grey areas here – any touch with the hand which leads to a goal being scored will be penalised under the new handball law.

“If that is not a goal, there is a problem,” a frustrated Coady said after the game. “They have brought VAR in to rectify all those problems but I think it has gone too far the other way now.”

Sergio on the spot

Jesus and Sterling’s team-mate Sergio Aguero had better luck with VAR when his penalty was saved by Lukasz Fabianski but he was given a second chance.

The decision appeared to resemble several against keepers in the recent Women’s World Cup, given that Fabianski had strayed from his line, but a higher standard is applied for such incidents in the Premier League – in fact, Hammers midfielder Declan Rice was the man penalised on this occasion, having encroached before the kick was taken and then affected play by clearing the loose ball.

Red card reviews make no impact

In line with the International Football Association Board’s original VAR policy of “minimum interference, maximum benefit”, the Premier League’s protocols include “a high bar for subjective decisions”.

This was seen in the game at the London Stadium as well as that between Burnley and Southampton as both Michail Antonio catching City midfielder Rodri with a flailing arm and Saints striker Che Adams’ challenge on Ben Mee were reviewed for possible red cards but no further action was taken.

Communication breakdown

The flurry of VAR discussion on Saturday came after a quiet opening night for the system, when it was not required during Liverpool’s win over Norwich save for unobtrusive checks on each goal.

There was a delay to the start of the second half when assistant referee Simon Bennett’s earpiece failed, but this would have been an issue even before the introduction of VAR and the Premier League quickly tweeted that the issue was unrelated.

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Man United's Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Arsenal's Nicolas Pepe lead Premier League debutants

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Showing your Sunday best was the aim of the game for a slew of Premier League debutants.

Record-breaking additions such as Newcastle United forward Joelinton, Arsenal forward Nicolas Pepe and Manchester United centre-back Harry Maguire got first tastes of competitive action in new colours this weekend. Promising youngster Mason Mount also heralded a fresh start for Chelsea – currently encumbered by a transfer ban – with his key attacking role in midfield handed to him by Frank Lampard.

Here, we analyse the displays from a sextet of potentially pivotal performers in 2019/20:


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Key statistic: Had the most shots for Newcastle with three, but only one was on target

A special affinity exists between the No9 shirt and Newcastle.

Hoffenheim last month received a club-record £40 million to see Joelinton follow in the footsteps of Jackie Milburn, Malcolm McDonald and Alan Shearer.

Sunday’s 1-0 home defeat to Arsenal presented a work in progress. An early touch bobbled out for a throw-in, while his desire to drop deep saw him clash with playmaker Miguel Almiron in Steve Bruce’s 3-5-2 formation.

The swift feet, however, that took him past several Arsenal defenders in front of the packed penalty box, before a pushed shot was shovelled away by goalkeeper Bernd Leno showed promise. With Newcastle shorn of 23 Premier League goals from 2018/19 because of Ayoze Perez and Salomon Rondon’s sales, such chances must start going in.


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Key statistic: Only 13 touches for Pepe after his 70th-minute introduction from the substitutes’ bench

This was a subdued introduction for the forward who lit up Ligue 1 last term.

Arsenal’s landmark £72m addition from Lille had a watching brief for more than an hour at St. James’ Park, then only flickered intermittently from the right. His shocking volleyed pass following a throw-in that went straight back out of play provided some gallows humour for the rebellious home fans.

It certainly wasn’t all gloom, though. Hints at what is to come from the Gunners’ 200th Premier League player came when an insouciant drop of the shoulder under pressure out wide took a pair of hypnotised Magpies defenders out of the game.

The triumvirate of Pepe, match-winner Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and fellow replacement Alexandre Lacazette still heralds copious excitement.


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Key statistic: An insipid debut from the Spaniard contained one off-target shot and one dribble

The fastidious application of the video assistant referee was the major talking point from Leicester’s goalless opener against Wolves.

But what merits serious review from Foxes tactician Brendan Rodgers is how a remarkable 70-per-cent possession generated just one shot on target from 15. This lack of cutting edge was symbolised by £30m pick-up Perez’s anaemic 75-minute bow.

The versatile ex-Newcastle attacker was selected on his favoured right flank, so positioning cannot be used as an excuse. Wolves were also compact, severing the connection between Perez and lone striker Jamie Vardy when the former attempted to cut inside.

With Chelsea up next, the Foxes must hope they’ve landed another Shinji Okazaki rather than Ahmed Musa.


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Key statistic: The centre-back nicknamed ‘Slabhead’, typically, won joint-most aerials with four

What do you do when you’ve just come off your worst defensive season in 40 years?

If you have United’s resources, you spend a world-record £80m on Leicester’s Maguire.

The results, less than a week since his protracted move, in the emphatic 4-0 victory against Chelsea spoke for themselves. Maguire led the way for interceptions (four) and clearances (seven).

Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s want for more expansive play from defence also witnessed him register the joint-third most touches (72) and make the third-most passes. The visible rise in partner Victor Lindelof’s assuredness was also notable.

This wasn’t a perfect performance from United’s rearguard – Chelsea rattled the woodwork twice and had seven more attempts than the hosts. But it was a propitious start from United and Maguire, highlighted by a robust challenge that sparked the second.


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Key statistic: Rampaging right-back Wan-Bissaka made United’s joint-most crosses (four) and most tackles (six)

Right-back has been a position of both worry and improvisation at United for much of this decade.

Converted wingers Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young became maligned, while the likes of Italy’s Matteo Darmian flattered to deceive. A long-term cure to this ailment, however, looks to have been found.

A turn-on of the afterburners and successful challenge on left-back Emerson in the first 10 minutes detailed what the £55m buy from Crystal Palace is all about.

The roaming 21-year-old was a presence in both halves in the eventual romp against Chelsea. He was in the top three for United in tackles, interceptions (three) and clearances (five); the same could also be said for crosses, dribbles (two) and pass accuracy (86.1 per cent).


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Key statistic: Both of playmaker Mount’s two attempts were on target for the Blues

Lampard’s belief in 20-year-old midfielder Mount was extended at Old Trafford.

The influential central position in the Blues great’s three-man attacking midfield was bequeathed to the prospect – one of seven players selected in the first-team squad – who shone under him when on loan at the Championship’s Derby County during 2018/19.

But the effervescent Mount was granted authority to drift with impunity in an excellent first half for the visitors.

Overall, he pinged in two threatening shots from range and twice teed up France centre-back Kurt Zouma for headers. There was, however, one telling moment of inexperience when he chose to cross rather than shoot and another dangerous break terminated when he chose the wrong option.

Unlike in previous Chelsea regimes, Mount will get plentiful minutes. He’s shown enough to merit them.

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Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial can replace Romelu Lukaku's goals and other Man United v Chelsea takeaways

Chris Bailey 11/08/2019
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Manchester United rode their luck and then the crest of a second-half wave as quick-fire goals from their two great attacking hopes, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, sunk an otherwise vibrant Chelsea in this Old Trafford Premier League opener.

Tammy Abraham smashed the post and Emerson went even closer, seeing his effort glance off the underside of the bar, as Chelsea provided the greater threat in the first 45 minutes.

However, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire went some way to justifying the combined £135 million that United spent for their services in a fine all-round performance from the hosts’ back four.

It was Rashford who provided the breakthrough in the 18th minute from the penalty spot after clumsiness from Kurt Zouma. Having soaked up more Chelsea pressure, United finished the job off when Martial bundled in Andreas Pereira’s cross shortly after the hour-mark and Rashford matched Paul Pogba’s raking pass with an equally fine finish.

There was time for left for new boy Daniel James – who has only played 33 professional games in his career before moving to Old Trafford – to sneak in a dream fourth goal.

Luk who’s scoring the goals

Romelu Lukaku’s United career will be looked upon with derision… but the Belgian did score goals.

With his £74m sale to Inter Milan in the books, executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has also removed 42 goals over the last two seasons without buying so much as a replacement.

Does the scoreline suggest there was nothing to worry about after all? Not quite.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s blueprint for his attack is pace and lots of it, yet often during the first half Martial and Rashford would break without conjuring up much of a plan whey got to their final-third destination.

If chance creation – or simply getting shots off – was lacking, questions over how clinical this front line can be have been answered. Martial’s goal, while fortunate having come off his standing leg, showed a striker’s instinct to beat Cesar Azpilicueta to the ball in the six-yard box.

And Rashford, both for penalty and his placed one-on-one finish, were hallmarks of a potential assassin.

No Kurt response

Kurt Zouma could not have expected for his Chelsea career to be given a second wind.

Successive loans to Stoke and Everton – with whom he was constantly linked to a permanent move over the summer – were nudges towards the exit door for a player who has never truly looked back to his best following a horrible knee injury during the 2016/17 campaign.

Well, David Luiz is now in north London and Antonio Rudiger has made best friends with Chelsea’s physios. Here’s your chance.

Sadly for the France international, this was not the type of audition he’d have been dreaming of. Rare is it for a centre-back to not protest a penalty, but he knew he was caught red-handed with a ugly chop at Marcus Rashford’s feet.

Another clumsy grapple somewhere in midfield earned him a yellow and a brainless back-pass let in Anthony Martial, which thankfully for him came to nothing. Andreas Christensen, the other first-choice hopeful, looked far more assured.

Say what you will about United’s transfer policy, but they have invested heavily in Wan-Bissaka and Maguire and both looked the part on Sunday. With Chelsea hamstrung by their embargo, you feel that much of the race for top four hinges on their back four.

Welcome back, Paul

If a summer of optimism was supposed to smooth out fans’ frustrations with Pogba, he quickly reintroduced those kinks to his game.

Driving towards the opposition goal he plays at hyper-speed. When faced towards his own goal, his mind often moves through sludge.

At numerous times on Sunday he was preyed upon by Chelsea’s buzzing press having taken too many touches or attempted the intricate when there was no cause for it.

He was dispossessed five times in the first half alone and it only inflames suspicions that the Frenchman is just too ill-disciplined to start in a midfield two – particularly with the relatively inexperienced Scott McTominay beside him – to give United a consistent foothold in games.

Then what eventually happens? A brief glance, a wonderfully weighted ball to Rashford, and it’s game over. What about a second delicious assist to hand James some debut delight?

This is why he’s worth keeping. Just don’t forget the preceding 65 minutes.

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