Ever since its introduction to the Premier League in the 2019-20 season, the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) has been a constant source of controversy. The system produced so many questionable calls during its debut season that many fans were hoping it’d be axed altogether coming into 2020-21.
However, the Premier League has retained VAR's services, and unfortunately, the system has continued to cause issues during the current campaign. It often seems that every gameweek features at least one questionable VAR decision, whether it’s to do with a handball, offside, or penalty call.
With 10 games now gone in the Premier League’s 2020-21 season, here are the five most controversial VAR decisions of the campaign to date.
#1 Eric Dier handball – Tottenham Hotspur 1-1 Newcastle United, September 27th, 2020
In September, Tottenham Hotspur’s home game with Newcastle United looked like it’d be a simple three points for Jose Mourinho’s men. They bossed the match from the start and were somehow able to have 12 shots on target, only for Newcastle keeper Karl Darlow to thwart them time after time.
But as the game ticked into its dying seconds, it looked like Lucas Moura’s first-half goal would be enough to seal things. However, that idea was blown apart by a VAR intervention that even had commentator Jamie Carragher groaning in horror.
Newcastle pinged a late free-kick into the box, and Andy Carroll rose to head it, only for Spurs to send the ball clear. However, upon a VAR check, the officials managed to decide that Eric Dier had actually handled the ball and awarded Newcastle a penalty.
The replay did seem to show some contact with Dier’s arm. But the England defender’s back was to the ball, and his arm was only flailing due to his attempt to out-jump Carroll. It was certainly not a deliberate infraction, nor did it impact on the ball’s trajectory.
Still, referee Peter Bankes was forced to point to the spot – allowing Callum Wilson to equalize, essentially robbing Tottenham of two points.
This was VAR at its worst. Not only was the system offering an intervention when the referee had not made a “clear and obvious” error, but it was enforcing a pedantic rule around handball that has since been dropped by the Premier League.
The fact that even Newcastle boss Steve Bruce disagreed with the call showed that this was an appalling decision from VAR.
#2 Sadio Mane offside – Everton 2-2 Liverpool, October 17th, 2020
The Merseyside derby is often a match filled with drama, and this October’s version was no different. The game was already a controversial one due to VAR’s failure to review a dangerous tackle from Everton’s Jordan Pickford on Virgil van Dijk – who had apparently strayed offside. But much worse was to come.
With the match tied up at 2-2 heading into stoppage time, Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson fired a low shot towards goal from just inside the box. Somehow, the ball squirmed under Pickford and into the net, and the Reds believed they’d won the game.
Except VAR decided they hadn’t. Despite referee Michael Oliver awarding the goal, a VAR check apparently showed that Sadio Mane – who provided the assist to Henderson – was offside. However, images appeared to show that two Everton defenders were narrowly playing him on.
If the Senegalese forward was offside, the only advantage he could possibly have gained on the defenders could’ve been measured in millimeters. And even then, he had to play an accurate pass in order for Henderson to score.
In his post-match interview, Henderson even went as far as claiming that the VAR team had “bent the lines” in order to decide Mane was offside. And while that was probably inaccurate, it was certainly another massively controversial VAR call.
After all, the offside rule was brought in to prevent goal-hanging – not to allow VAR to chalk off perfectly good goals for a matter of millimeters.