VAR from over: the debate continues

The Crude Commentator

Ah, the FA Cup third round replay. A favourite match-day of those foreign Premier League managers bemoaning the unrelenting English fixture list. Look at those so-called other “big leagues” with their poncey winter breaks, what a load of nonsense. Anyway, it proved to be a highly entertaining couple of days of football.

On Tuesday night, League One Fleetwood Town travelled to the King Power to take on Premier League Leicester in the aptly named Jamie Vardy derby. Vardy, who joined Leicester from Fleetwood in 2012, only spent the final 10 minutes on the pitch having missed the 0-0 draw in the first fixture between the two because of injury.

But he certainly did not turn out to be the biggest talking point of the game.

History was made when Kelechi Iheanacho stroked home his second goal of the game in the 77th minute after being slipped through by Riyad Mahrez. The goal was initially disallowed after the linesman raised the offside flag, but after just over a minute-long consultation with the VAR (yawn), referee Jonathan Moss overturned his decision to give the goal and see Leicester advance to the fourth round. It was the first goal to be awarded by a video assistant referee in English football.

But it hasn’t been all rosy and nice for this hotly debated new feature of the game over the last two days of football. Indeed, if the game at Stamford Bridge between Chelsea and Norwich last night is anything to go by, one of the things the new system seems to struggle with is stonewall penalties.

Chelsea had originally gone ahead through their B-team talisman Michy Batshuayi, before Norwich youngster Jamal Lewis sent the game into extra time with a dramatic last gasp header.

Willian then skipped into the box and went down under the challenge of Timm Klose. In real time it did seem dubious, but the replays immediately showed that the Brazilian had clearly been clipped. Penalty. Referee Graham Scott, however, instantly pointed for a Norwich free-kick and motioned to brandish his yellow card for simulation. But wait! What about this brand new full-proof system everybody’s talking about? That’ll surely settle this once and for all.

And it did. The VAR, watching the incident multiple times from a dozen-plus different camera angles, backed the referee’s decision to book Willian for diving, much to the amazement of the Chelsea players, the fans, and anyone with eyes.

And that wasn’t the only drama – VAR-induced or otherwise – in extra time. Pedro, who had been booked in the second half for a genuinely atrocious dive at the feet of Norwich keeper (and arguably man of the match) Angus Gunn, crunched into Wes Hoolahan and got given his marching orders. Then in the dying seconds, a frustrated Alvaro Morata, who is still fervently pursuing his pastime of not being able to hit a barn door, went down in the box under the challenge of Christoph Zimmermann.

Now, he and Conte had been gesticulating, drawing rectangles in the air (something I fear we’re going to be seeing a lot of), imploring the referee to consult the VAR for pretty much every decision that went against them. So you can just imagine what happened when this one did too. Morata, having been booked for the dive, was then immediately sent off for screaming in the referee’s face, sending his team down to nine men. And Conte’s head-wobbling protests at the final whistle made him look like a nodding-head Churchill dog doing 90mph in a rally car.

Anyway, Chelsea went through on penalties. But who cares about that? The VAR shitstorm rages on.