Match Officials Mic’d Up Pt 1: Webb analyses key incidents from Matchweeks 1-4 in 2023/24

5 Sep 2023

PGMOL's Howard Webb reveals the decision-making process for incidents such as Kai Havertz's overturned penalty

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Match Officials mic’d up: What referees and VARs say

PGMOL and the Premier League are opening up discussions between the referee and the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) for six key incidents so far this season in the first instalment of "Match Officials: Mic'd Up", led by Howard Webb, chief operating officer at PGMOL, the organisation that oversees the League’s match officials.

Webb and Michael Owen go through the conversation between the match officials to give fans greater knowledge of how decisions between the officials on the pitch and those in the VAR hub in Stockley Park are made.

The incidents covered below are: Kai Havertz's overturned penalty; Andre Onana's non-penalty; Anass Zaroury's red card; John Egan's handball penalty; Virgil van Dijk's red card; Nathan Ake's goal v Fulham.

Kai Havertz's overturned penalty

TV Info - Broadcasters

Incident: On the hour mark, Kai Havertz runs into the Manchester United penalty area and, under pressure from a combination of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Casemiro, the Arsenal midfielder goes down in the area.

What the match officials did: Referee Anthony Taylor awards a penalty but is advised by the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) Jarred Gillet to review the incident in the Referee Review Area. After reviewing the incident, Taylor overturns his on-field decision, cancelling the penalty, and awards Man Utd a drop-ball.

Howard Webb: “And I was watching this game and thought to myself, that looks like a penalty kick. At full speed as Kai Havertz goes between Wan-Bissaka and Casemiro. The penalty was given and we know that the VAR will always check every penalty situation.

“It was a good use of VAR. The referee believed that Wan-Bissaka had tripped Havertz, but the video shows something quite different that there's no actual contact initially.

“Another step by Havertz, his leg goes into Wan-Bissaka. The VAR, really calm and concise, recognises all of that, thinks it's a clear and obvious error. I agree. Recommends a review. We get to the right decision.”

Anass Zaroury red card

TV Info - Broadcasters

Incident: In the fourth minute of second-half stoppage time, Kyle Walker is running down the left of Burnley’s defence when the player chasing him, Anass Zaroury, brings down the Manchester City defender.

zaroury2 (1)

What the match officials did: Referee Craig Pawson gives Zaroury a yellow card but the VAR Michael Oliver advises him to go to the Referee Review Area. After looking at the incident again, Pawson changes his on-field decision, and upgrades Zaroury’s yellow card to a red.

Webb: “Sometimes those situations are difficult to identify at full speed exactly where is the contact. If it’s on the foot, it’s only reckless. Higher than that, with stud contact into the calf, we’re talking serious foul play. The safety of the opponent is endangered. The VAR can see that, nice and efficiently [he] gets the referee to the screen to make the final decision, and [it’s] a really good outcome. Really pleased with that use of VAR on the opening day of the season.”

Andre Onana non-penalty

TV Info - Broadcasters

What happened: In the sixth minute of added time at the end of the match at Old Trafford, with Man Utd winning 1-0, United goalkeeper Andre Onana rushes out for a cross from the right by Pedro Neto but fails to get near it and instead collides into Wolverhampton Wanderers’s Sasa Kalajdzic, who was jumping for the ball with Craig Dawson. The ball goes out for a goal kick.


What did the match officials do: Referee Simon Hooper ignored Wolves’ claims for a penalty, awarding a goal kick. The VAR, Michael Salisbury, checked for a penalty but did not advise the referee to overturn his decision.

Webb: “I think from the outset I want to say that should have led to an intervention by VAR. We should have seen a video review being recommended and the referee should have gone to the screen. I’m confident he would have seen the images that we’ve seen and would have awarded a penalty.

“We hear the VAR in this circumstance going through the checking phase once the penalty has not been awarded and he is describing what he has seen – Onana coming out and contact with the Wolves player, Kalajdzic.

“[The VAR] starts to go down the road, I believe, towards recommending a video review, but then he overthinks it a little bit. Sometimes the VARs can do that. They’re trying to identify what the game would expect in terms of what is and isn’t a clear and obvious error.

“And when he sees these two players come together, he knows that sometimes that can happen and it’s not a foul. In this case quite interestingly neither Onana nor Kalajdzic plays the ball, so he sees in the end that as a coming together, a collision of two players, and decided not to intervene.

“But the difference in this one is that Onana jumps into the Wolves player. Kalajdzic is just jumping up and not into Onana. So it’s not two players coming together, it’s one going into the other.

“We didn’t recommend a review. We should have done. We acknowledge that as an error, which, of course, was disappointing. We took the learning from that, obviously, to try and ensure going forward that type of error doesn’t happen again.

“We think it’s important we acknowledge clear errors. When it’s clear like this one, we don’t want people to benchmark against this situation. This was clearly wrong – if this happens the following week, we expect a penalty to be given. So, I think it’s only right we acknowledge errors when they happen, acknowledge that wasn’t correct; and we expect to see something different next time.”

John Egan's handball penalty

TV Info - Broadcasters

What happened: In the 35th minute, Man City’s Julian Alvarez tries to cross a ball into the Sheffield United penalty area but it hits the raised arm of Blades defender John Egan.


What did the match officials do: Referee Jarred Gillett awards a penalty. Simon Hooper, the VAR, confirms that the handball decision stands.

Webb: “In this situation we see the referee make a decisive on-field decision. He’s in a good position to see the arm of John Egan is pretty significantly extended away from the body. He is trying to block the ball with his body, his legs, his head, but to do that action his arm has to come away from his body and he takes a risk when he makes that action. And when the ball strikes the arm, the expectation is that you will be penalized. I think you can see his reaction. He hits the floor knowing there is going to be a penalty awarded and it is. The VAR checks that and sees that contact with the arm, and the check completes quickly.

“I think in all my time in refereeing, handball is the area that creates the most debate, the most subjectivity. You’re trying to find so many different aspects: Has the ball come at speed towards a player trying to do something quite normal and the arm isn’t really extended away? We’re trying to look at the situation in its own merits, trying to factor in the Laws of the Game, which talk about only two real aspects: one, is it a deliberate action to move the hand to the ball? It rarely is. And second, have you made yourself unnaturally big, and taken that risk? That’s what we saw with John Egan.”

Virgil van Dijk's red card

TV Info - Broadcasters

What happened: With Newcastle United leading 1-0 in the 28th, a pass is delivered to Alexander Isak just outside the Liverpool penalty area. The Newcastle striker attempts to spin past Virgil van Dijk and into the area but goes to ground after contact with the Liverpool defender.


What did the match officials do: Referee John Brooks awards a red card to Van Dijk. VAR Stuart Attwell reviews the incident and confirms that the red card should stand.

Webb: “We think it's a good identification of a foul by John Brooks, the referee. We see that in the end Van Dijk does play the ball but to get there he clearly kicks through the foot on Alexander Isak.

“It’s not only a free-kick, but it also denies Isak an obvious goalscoring opportunity. He is close to goal, he is going to be able to control the ball quite easily, there are no covering defenders. And, of course, we know the direction is towards the goal.

“Van Dijk is not protected by the fact that if that had happened in the penalty area it would have been a yellow card for an attempt to play the ball or challenge for the ball. It’s outside the penalty area so therefore it still has to be a red card for [denial of goalscoring opportunity]. When that happens outside the penalty area, even if the defender is trying to play the ball, which van Dijk was, the fact he committed a foul means he has to be sent off in this circumstance. It’s quite a clear situation.”

Nathan Ake's goal v Fulham

TV Info - Broadcasters

Incident: In the fifth minute of first-half stoppage time, Nathan Ake heads in from a Phil Foden corner. On its way to the bottom left-corner, Ake’s header goes close to Manuel Akanji, who is stood in an offside position and makes a movement as the ball passes him, but without making contact with the ball.


What the match officials did: The VAR, Tony Harrington, and the on-field officials confirm the awarding of the goal.

What Howard Webb says: “These are not always easy to call because you're trying to get two pieces of information together: Is the player in an offside position? The assistant is well placed to see that on the field. And then what consequence was there of being in that [offside] position? How did it impact the opponents? And the referee can sometimes see that from their position.

“From the outset I want to say I think this should have been disallowed, this goal. It certainly appears that Akanji has an impact on Bernd Leno, the goalkeeper, who seems to hesitate.

“The officials on the field gave the goal. They didn't see an obvious action that impacted Leno's ability to play the ball. They see Akanji moving slightly away from the ball to let it past him. There's a flick out of the foot but that's after the ball has passed.

“When the VAR and AVAR [assistant VAR] checked that situation, they saw that same retraction away from the ball. They didn't feel that that was clearly impactful on Leno's ability to play the ball. But you can see that hesitation by the goalkeeper, who is waiting to see if the ball makes contact with Akanji, which would have deflected the ball.

“So we think it's a clear situation of offside. Unfortunately, it wasn't identified on the day, and, of course, the learning from this one will also be shared amongst all of our group because we're always looking to do better each and every week, and this was an error.”

Glossary of terms

VAR: Video Assistant Referee; AVAR: Assistant Video Assistant Referee; RO: replay operator; APP: attacking phase of play.

UK users can watch all the Mic-ed Up videos on this Sky Sports piece, while international users can access with their local rights-holder.

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