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VAR explained: Why Koch handball was awarded

17 Sep 2020
Robin Koch handball

Former referee Chris Foy runs through the VAR decisions from the weekend's matches

The 2020/21 Premier League season has brought some new Laws, as well as clarifications as to how the Laws will be applied, and the opening weekend provided some early examples.

Former Premier League referee Chris Foy explains further the decisions made. 


Incident: In Liverpool v Leeds United, Mohamed Salah's shot deflects off Robin Koch's knee and on to his arm. Referee Michael Oliver awards a penalty and, after checking the footage, the VAR confirms the decision.

Foy's view: This was a good example of how handball will be determined this season. Koch's arm was clearly extended from his body and, even though the ball deflected on to his arm off his knee, this doesn't change the decision.

Had his arm been in a natural position by his side, the referee should not award a penalty – it is subjective – but the key thing here is his arm position being clearly away from his body.

If the ball strikes a defending player's arm in the area after he has deliberately played the ball, this is different and wouldn't be penalised, according to the Laws of the Game. But Koch did not deliberately play the ball, so the penalty was awarded.

Delaying the flag for offside 

This is new for the 2020/21 Premier League. When an immediate goalscoring opportunity is likely to occur, the assistant referee will keep their flag down if they think there is an offside until the passage of play is completed.

Once a goal is scored or the chance is gone, the assistant will raise the flag to indicate the initial offence.

If a goal is scored, the VAR will review the offside call. This weekend, incidents of a goal being scored and the assistant raising their flag occurred twice. The referee does not need to go to the Referee Review Area (RRA) as the decision is factual. 

Incident: Crystal Palace v Southampton: Wilfried Zaha runs on to a through-ball to score. The assistant referee then raises his flag to signify Zaha was offside, which is confirmed by the VAR. 

Incident: Liverpool v Leeds United: Trent Alexander-Arnold heads the ball into his own net after Leeds' Jack Harrison lifted the ball over Alisson. The assistant referee then raises his flag, signifying Harrison had been offside when running through. Again this decision is confirmed by the VAR. 

Use of the RRA for subjective decisions

In line with FIFA's VAR protocol, there will be greater use of the Referee Review Area (RRA) this season for subjective decisions in three key areas: goals, red cards and penalties.

Incident: Crystal Palace v Southampton. Southampton defender Kyle Walker-Peters is shown a red card by referee Jon Moss for a challenge on Tyrick Mitchell. The VAR, Craig Pawson, recommends Moss review his decision at the RRA. After doing so, Moss downgrades the red card to a yellow.

Foy's view: This was an excellent use of VAR and showed the importance of the RRA. On first viewing you can appreciate why Moss gave the red card as, from his angle, Walker-Peters doesn't get the ball and catches Mitchell. But after reviewing the incident at the RRA he correctly recognised that this was a clear and obvious error, as the challenge lacked the intensity referees look for when issuing a red, and so he reduced the sanction. 

Jon Moss
Jon Moss takes another look at Kyle Walker-Peters' challenge in the Referee Review Area
Mistaken identity

In the event that the referee awards a yellow or red card to the wrong player, the VAR will advise as to the correct player to be disciplined.

Incident: West Ham United v Newcastle United: West Ham's Tomas Soucek is shown a yellow for a challenge on Allan Saint-Maximin. The foul was committed by Andriy Yarmolenko so the VAR advises the referee to reassign the caution to the Ukrainian. As this is a factual decision, the RRA is not needed. 

Foy's view: We rarely see this occur, but it highlights how VAR can easily correct an on-field error.

Tomas Soucek
Tomas Soucek protests his innocence as he is booked in a case of mistaken identity
VAR and incorrect restarts

Incident: Spurs v Everton: Dominic Calvert-Lewin's goal for Everton comes from a free-kick taken from the incorrect position, further forward from where the offence took place.

Foy's view: VAR cannot intervene on restarts, only on what happens after the restart. So the free-kick was taken from the incorrect place, but VAR protocol does not allow any intervention. This would also be true of a goal from a corner or throw-in awarded incorrectly to the attacking team. 

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