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  • Writer's pictureLuke Powell

VAR strikes again: Liverpool should be top of the Premier League

Club slams ‘unacceptable’ VAR errors which cost them against Spurs and question the integrity of the result as PGMOL admit mistake.

Crowdplod’s Luke Powell dissects one of the most controversial matches in recent history…

Saturday evening’s howler from Simon Hooper and the referees in charge epitomises the blunders consistently made by those who are supposed to be the best in the business, and Spurs’ win against nine-man Liverpool has been understandably devalued amidst the controversy.

The stand-out clanger on this occasion occurred soon after another VAR intervention when Liverpool had a man sent off as Hooper was asked to go to the monitor and upgraded his on field yellow card for Curtis Jones to a red. This was already causing much debate but nothing to that when Luis Diaz’s fine goal was ruled out by the assistant referee for offside, and due to the catastrophic failure to carry out the appropriate process using the technology available the decision was not overturned. VAR was introduced for the very reason of cutting out mistakes and inaccuracies by on field referees around subjective decisions such as offside, with lines used on the still images to show the relative positions of attacker and defender at the point the ball is played. On this occasion something has gone badly wrong and the implications could well be felt long into the future.

We are now well-used to the usual VAR discussion and there is always one side coming away from a game feeling hard-done by injustice of one kind or another providing fans with talking points in each and every game. 

The decision mentioned above was one of many questionable conclusions made at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium by on-field referee Simon Hooper, and Darren England and assistant Dan Cook on VAR. The officials have yet again become the main focus of attention rather than the players of the teams involved and it is the PGMOL that have stolen the limelight and found themselves in the firing line having to explain and offer apology for their errors.

However, an apology this time for Liverpool doesn’t appear to be enough. The club issued a stand-out statement on Sunday evening outlining their frustration and desire to seek a much deeper investigation into the events around the decision not to award the Diaz goal. Losing out on a valuable point against Ange Postecoglu’s side came from Joel Matips stoppage-time own goal, but the Reds feel as though they and sport itself may have been robbed of far more. Many may well agree but there have also been those who think Liverpool’s statement has gone too far. 

Liverpool wrote in their statement: “We fully accept the pressures that match officials work under but these pressures are supposed to be alleviated, not exacerbated, by the existence and implementation of VAR.”

Adding: “That such failings have already been categorised as “significant human error” is also unacceptable. Any and all outcomes should be established only by the review and with full transparency.

“This is vital for the reliability of future decision-making as it applies to all clubs with learnings being used to make improvements to processes in order to ensure this kind of situation cannot occur again.

“In the meantime, we will explore the range of options available, given the clear need for escalation and resolution.”

The last line of the statement is highly significant in that Liverpool wants more than just an apology. The refereeing governing body PGMOL have admitted that a huge mistake was made, putting it down to “significant human error” by the officials who were working in the UAE just 48 hours previously to taking charge of the top of the table class between Spurs and Jurgen Klopp’s reds. Liverpool have since made a formal request to PGMOL to receive the audio between referee Simon Hooper and VAR’s Darren England during the process that led to Luiz Diaz’s goal being wrongly disallowed for offside and want all matters surrounding the process to be investigated fully and transparently. This is significant as normally when VAR has been seen to be used inaccurately an apology from PGMOL to the club involved has not been questioned and everyone just moves on. Not this time though and maybe we have reached a tipping point and a full review of how VAR is used will be carried out reading to significant changes that make the process more robust. 

Fixtures between Spurs and Liverpool are never short of drama and debate. Over the last few years, decisions made by on-field referees and those sitting miles away in a VAR booth have dominated discussion after the clashes with Spurs feeling as though they finally got some luck on Saturday. Last season Harry Kane got away with a studs up challenge on Andy Robertson with no VAR review and in the 2019 Champions League final Liverpool were awarded a penalty for handball on the say so of VAR. Swings and roundabouts some might say, but this does seem to be the point at which clubs are no longer willing to accept that the errors being made by professional officials can continue when they are having a direct impact on the result.  

Was the result of this match affected? No-one can be sure but if Liverpool had gone into the lead in the first half would Tottenham have found a way back? Many say no as they struggled to find a way through nine-men Liverpool who were compromised by two controversial red cards and had not much go their way. 

When Curtis Jones’ tackle on Yves Bissouma was presented in front of referee Simon Hooper, there were no doubts from those watching that he would see red. As soon as the referee is called to the screen these days, they might as well just reverse their decision there and then. This is because the act prompted by those miles away controlling VAR is basically saying ‘you got it wrong’ instead of ‘let's have a proper look at this to come to the right fair decision’.

The midfielder’s tackle where he clearly got the ball - which is round - was shown as a freeze-frame instead of the full video in real-time like it should’ve been. Subsequently making it worse by showing Jones’ boot on Bissouma’s ankle the Liverpool man saw red, but what wasn’t clear to referee Hooper was that his foot rolled over the ball which is shaped in a way which makes his leg do so. As Klopp said after the match: “When you see it in real time, it’s not even close to being that bad.”

Diogo Jota - a victim of poor refereeing likewise to many in this game. The forward was sent off for a second bookable offence which was a reckless and silly tackle to make being on a yellow card which he’d earned just moments before. The controversy surrounding his red card was for the initial yellow dished out with pace from referee Hooper who carded the Portuguese international for what he thought was a foul on Destiny Udogie. 

“The first caution is clearly not a yellow,” said Jurgen Klopp, "Simon Hooper is alone in thinking an offence was committed by Diogo Jota as the Spurs man tripped himself.”

It’s not just the primary and obvious errors being pointed out; there has been wide debate and discussion surrounding other moments in the game which have deeply frustrated Liverpool players and fans leaving them with nothing, despite a valiant effort in a 5-3-0 formation for the last 20-minutes of the match...

And just to make matters worse, Liverpool face the prospect of an FA fine for poor discipline in the game due to the number of yellow and red cards they accrued!


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