VAR proving to be Liverpool’s nemesis
VAR favours Liverpool, does it? That was the reaction on social media last season, when the hashtag #LiVARpool was everywhere as they won their first league title for 30 years. Rival fans reckoned that VAR had been a key reason for the success, though the facts showed that was unjustified, and this season Jurgen Klopp’s men have every reason to feel the VAR has been against them.
Liverpool now lead almost every VAR category you’d want to avoid. They faced a VAR overturn just eight times in their title-winning season, of which only three went against them. But the quest to defend their Premier League crown has been tested to the hilt in the early part of the campaign, involved in six overturns already with five in favour of the opposition.
No team has had as many goals disallowed as Liverpool’s three in the opening eight games, the same as they suffered in the whole of 2019-20. They have had more decisions (five) against them than any other team, and no other club has had more than the two VAR penalties awarded to the opposition. The Reds also sit bottom of the table for net VAR decisions, on -4.
The decisions have, so far, not been too damaging in terms of their results. They won 2-1 at home to Sheffield United despite conceding a controversial early VAR penalty, and then had a Mohamed Salah goal disallowed for offside with the score at 1-1. They also had an 82nd-minute Diogo Jota goal against West Ham ruled out for a foul before the Portugal forward managed to find a winner. But they got away with one at Manchester City when Kevin De Bruyne missed from the penalty spot after Joe Gomez was harshly penalised for handball by the VAR.
There was the double-whammy against Everton at Goodison Park. The VAR missed a clear red card for Jordan Pickford’s tackle on Virgil van Dijk. And to make matters worse in the derby, Jordan Henderson had his stoppage-time “winner” disallowed for a questionable offside against Sadio Mane. Yet despite all this, and with only Andreas Christensen’s red card for Chelsea in their favour, Liverpool sit one point off the top of the table.
It’s a very different picture at the champions’ rivals Everton. All three overturns have been in their favour and positively affected their results, gaining them six points, four more points than any other club. And then you factor in Pickford’s escape too.
Of the rest of the big six, only Tottenham Hotspur come close to matching Liverpool’s negative record with three of four decisions going against them — the most high-profile being the injury-time penalty awarded to Newcastle United for handball against Eric Dier, one of two spot kicks given against them.
Chelsea haven’t been involved with VAR since that Christensen dismissal against Liverpool with the score at 0-0, in a game they went on to lose 2-0. But manager Frank Lampard will point to the certain penalty the VAR missed at Old Trafford, when Harry Maguire had Cesar Azpilicueta in a WWE-type hold, again with the score at 0-0.
Manchester United have been heavily involved but their seven VAR decisions have come across just three fixtures and, arguably, only 3-2 win at Brighton — a penalty against overturned and a late penalty given for them — saw the result affected. Arsenal and Man City have seen just one overturn in their games and neither has changed the outcome.