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10 biggest Premier League VAR controversies ever ranked

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Here are the worst VAR rulings in Premier League history following the ridiculous judgements made during the Spurs vs. Liverpool match.

After Liverpool’s contentious loss at Tottenham, the topic of video assistant refereeing has once again made headlines, serving as a stark reminder to the footballing world of how contentious the use of video technology in football has become as well as how inadequate, inconsistent, and brutally unfair the application process is. The adoption of VAR was first praised since many people considered football to be “outdated” and that naked-eye refereeing judgments frequently had a negative impact on games. But since its debut during the 2019–2020 season, controversy has never been far away. From the technology’s propensity to analyze marginal offside rulings, which frequently results in goals being disallowed for minute infractions that are difficult to detect in real-time, to the subjective interpretation of apparent and obvious errors, disruptive delays in gameplay, and more.

In the end, this has caused frustration among players, spectators, and officials alike, undermining the sport’s spontaneity and emotional components while also reducing the power of on-field referees and fostering a contentious debate about VAR’s function and effects in the beautiful game. It is safe to assume that many football supporters, players, and managers are at their wits’ end. Even retired referee Mike Dean noted that decision-making may be unpredictable and frequently corrupted by personal relationships. The top 10 VAR disputes in Premier League history are shown below.

10: It’s not over until it’s over

Many fans on both sides of the Manchester United and Brighton fence were perplexed during the game, which was not very heated but was simply because the referee used the right regulations. Referee Stuart Atwell sounded the full-time whistle after the teams had tied the score at two goals each, believing that both teams had earned a point. Nevertheless, Attwell gave United a penalty after examining a possible handball and bringing back all 22 players to the field. The Red Devils won all three points as Bruno Fernandes took the opportunity and executed it expertly.

9: Rodri’s Controversial handball at Goodison Park

In his post-game press conference, Everton manager Frank Lampard made it clearly plain how he felt, saying, “A three-year-old could tell you that is a penalty.” Everton was fighting off the possibility of relegation in a tight match with Man City when Rodri appeared to handle the ball in his own penalty area just minutes after the Toffees fell down 1-0. Everton was denied a fought-for point after VAR once more failed to find any foul play.

8: Pickford’s season-ending challenge on Virgil van Dijk

It’s fair to argue that Liverpool has been the target of an absurdly high number of terrible VAR judgments. In this case, the Reds were seeking to defend their Premier League title as they began the 2020–21 season. Virgil Van Dijk was dealt a cruel blow during a fiercely contested Merseyside Derby when Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford collided with the big Dutchman while handling a corner, leaving Van Dijk crumpled on the ground and suffering cruciate ligament damage that would keep him out for the remainder of the season. Jordan Pickford didn’t leave the field after his reckless challenge, and because VAR didn’t give Liverpool a penalty after they failed to win the ball, the game ended evenly.

7: Harry Kane studs-up challenge on Andy Robertson

Beyond the most recent fiasco, the Liverpool vs. Spurs VAR dispute dates back to a match between the two teams in December 2021. After making a studs-up challenge on Liverpool left-back Andy Robertson, Harry Kane should have abandoned the play. After the game, when both teams had scored two goals and Robertson had been dismissed, Tottenham’s star player stated that he had mistakenly believed he had won the ball.

6: Alex McCarthy clatters Phil Foden

When Southampton and Alex McCarthy visited Manchester City in March 2021, they had a forgettable afternoon. The Saints would go on to lose the game 5-2, but it was the referee’s inaction when Alex McCarthy pulled Phil Foden down in the box after a strong touch that cost them the game. The incident was cleared despite VAR reviewing it, costing Man City an obvious penalty.

5: Fabian Balbuena’s Red Card

During an all-London affair between West Ham and Chelsea, Fabian Balbuena was in receipt of an irrefutably poor decision. The Paraguayan defender hoisted the ball up the pitch quickly while Ben Chilwell was bearing in on him. The mistake by the match officials thereafter undoubtedly boiled the blood of many a Hammers fan. After clearing the ball, Balbuena visibly slipped, with the turf giving way from underneath his planted foot. As such, his kicking leg collided with the oncoming Ben Chilwell in what the referee and those in the VAR room deemed an excessive use of force, and a dangerous challenge. Consequently, Balbuena was sent off, with the West Londoners running out as 0-1 winners. While the red card was irrespectively rescinded, the damage to West Ham’s hopes of equalising had already been done.

4: You’re Fired… Arsenal vs. Brentford offside controversy

LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 11: Ivan Toney of Brentford and teammates hold a shirt for former teammate Sergi Canos after scoring the team’s first goal during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Brentford FC at Emirates Stadium on February 11, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

During a game between Arsenal and Brentford at the Emirates in February 2023, the title-chasing Gunners were leading Thomas Frank’s Bees 1-0, thanks to a goal from Leandro Trossard. However, 10 minutes later, Brentford drew level thanks to a truly contentious goal by Ivan Toney. It wasn’t the striker’s finish that brought the VAR officials controversy, rather the failure to pick up the fact that Christian Norgaard was in an offside position when receiving the ball.

Lee Mason, who was in charge of the technology for the game, focused the VAR investigation on the wrong player in Ethan Pinnock, who was deemed onside, which subsequently saw the goal wrongfully awarded. Lee Mason was unceremoniously sacked from his position, and Arsenal would go onto lose out on two points, in what was a seriously costly error of judgement.

3: Liverpool at the wrong end of a VAR ruling at Old Trafford

Liverpool vs. Manchester United is one of English football’s most storied and heated rivalries. Twice a season, the two titans square off in a match that is frequently extremely heated. Unbeaten Liverpool lost 1-0 at Old Trafford in October 2019 owing to a terrible error made by the referee and those at Stockley Park. The Red Devils regained control after Divock Origi of Liverpool was clearly fouled, went up the other end, and scored through Marcus Rashford to give United a lead. The goal was upheld despite a review, and Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp were rightfully furious.

2: A Hawkeye controversy at Villa Park

Although it is true that Hawkeye has been in existence long before VAR, Stockley Park’s VAR officials could have easily overruled this choice. Ollie Norwood of Sheffield United took a free kick during an Aston Villa vs. Sheffield United match at Villa Park in June 2020, and the ball looked to cross the goal line after hitting the underside of the crossbar and dropping down. Orjan Nyland, the goalie for Villa, was able to clear the ball, preventing the goal from being recognized. A deeper look revealed that the Hawkeye goal-line technology system, which is meant to notify the referee automatically when the ball crosses the line, did not do so.

Because Hawkeye, which is renowned for its accuracy and dependability, had never before malfunctioned in this way, the episode was exceedingly unique. It sparked intense criticism and discussion over football’s usage of technology, notably goal-line technology. The Blades and Chris Wilder were rightly incensed by the flagrant injustice that would have given them the victory after the game ended in a scoreless draw. As expected, the judgment had an impact on the Premier League as a whole, with the Villans maintaining their position at the top by one point on the last day and Bournemouth and Watford being demoted to the Championship. As a result, Villa’s point against Sheffield United at home thanks to the incorrect Hawkeye call kept them in the Premier League.

1: Tottenham vs. Liverpool: The worst VAR decisions in Premier League history?

With both sides heading into this fixture unbeaten, it was a classic case of “someone’s 0 having to go”. As it transpired, it was Liverpool’s, but not through any fault of their own. The Reds were dealt a devastating blow in the 26th minute at 0-0, with Curtis Jones being unfairly dismissed after his tackle was seen as endangering his opponent. Unfortunately for the Reds, this wasn’t the only grievance they were dealt.

The 10 most controversial VAR decisions in Premier League history
10. Man United getting a spot-kick against Brighton after the final whistle
9. Rodri escapes giving away penalty for handball in Everton vs Man City
8. No punishment against Jordan Pickford for reckless challenge on Virgil van Dijk
7. Harry Kane escapes punishment for dangerous, studs-up challenge on Andy Robertson
6. Man City don’t get penalty after Alex McCarthy takes out Phil Foden
5. Fabian Balbuena gets harsh red card in West Ham vs Chelsea
4. Brentford have goal against Arsenal wrongfully awarded
3. Liverpool aren’t given foul vs Man Utd, Rashford scores moments later
2. Sheffield United aren’t given goal despite ball crossing the line vs Aston Villa
1. Luis Diaz’s goal in Tottenham vs Liverpool wrongfully ruled out for offside

Luis Diaz’s goal against Spurs appeared to have given Liverpool the advantage, but it was absurdly ruled to be offside. Closer inspection revealed that the Colombian was firmly on board. While Klopp’s team did go on to tie the score before being unfairly reduced to nine men and giving up the game’s winning goal in the 96th minute, the PGMOL confirmed in a statement that there had been an error between VAR officer Darren England and on-field referee Simon Hooper.

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