The Impact of VAR on Liverpool Versus West Brom

The introduction of Video Assistant Refereeing (VAR) within English football has been controversial to say the least – people have not held anything back when it comes to their criticisms of the new technology while others have hugely defended it’s arrival. During Liverpool’s fourth round 3-2 loss to West Brom, VAR sparked the biggest debate on English shores since Brexit (supposedly).

Craig Pawson would rule proceedings on the pitch while Andre Marriner would be the fourth official from a TV studio in London, with access to multiple camera angles, replays and analysis tools – Marriner would advise the referee on the night through an earpiece.

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VAR was used on three occasions in the first half, a West Brom goal was ruled out, Liverpool were granted a penalty and the eventual third Baggies goal was under review before being awarded in due course. The last of these is understandably the least discussed, a potential offside was quickly reviewed by Marriner before the goal was officially awarded and kick off proceeded on the stroke of half-time.

However, the first use of VAR came in the 21st minute, as Gareth Barry’s obstruction of Simon Mignolet lead to Craig Dawson’s header tumbling into the net and sending the away fans into pandemonium as the Baggies took an unlikely two-goal lead. However, Pawson would press pause momentarily to consult Marriner, then using the blue parallel lines as part of the VAR system, Barry was deemed to be offside and his attempt to play the ball ruled out West Brom’s third goal. The decision in total took just over a minute, as Marriner told the ref through his ear-piece of the offside call and Mawson adjusted his decision accordingly. The Reds escaped a two-goal deficit for the time being, with the decision proving to be a fast and effective; but most importantly, correct one!

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The second VAR decision came just five minutes later, as Liverpool were granted a penalty due to Mohamed Salah being brought down by Jake Livermore. At first glance, it was hard to call whether Salah’s fall was theatrical or practical – luckily, the aforementioned VAR was on hand to review the decision. Initially, Pawson halted play and listened to his colleague roughly 220 miles away. Watching from home, the decision seemed like a no-brainer, Livermore’s grip on Salah’s left arm prevented him from reaching the incoming ball and a potential goal scoring opportunity. After listening to his assistant for at least a minute, Pawson jogged over to the pitch side screen to view the incident himself. During this time, the Anfield crowd had no idea as to the referees thinking or access to any replays of the incident – this has been raised as the major problem associated with VAR at this current time. With fans left in the dark, it sucks some life out of the occasion but ultimately if the correct decision can be made, this must be in the best interest of everyone involved.

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After at least a three minute interval, Pawson left the pitchside and pointed to the spot, awarding the home side a justified penalty. Although Roberto Firmino would go on to miss the penalty, the consequences this could have had on the match had he netted would have been game-changing, given the narrow one-goal loss. There were a few criticisms that were easy to raise in relation to this incident. The decision did take longer than the two and a half minute average, fans were none the wiser to a blatant penalty and Pawson shouldn’t have had to go pitchside to watch the replays himself. However, the correct decision was made eventually and that is what we want to see as the game looks to evolve and adapt in a modern era where decisions can have multi-million-pound consequences.

Overall, VAR had a positive impact on the fixture, the first decision would have been difficult for any referee to spot without the assistance of the technology. Meanwhile, the penalty awarded was typical of the sort of decisions that go amiss in almost every match – this could lead to less overly physical defending and improper contact in the box going forward. On the evening, Liverpool simply weren’t good enough to beat West Brom and their fourth round cup exit was deserved.

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