PGMOL and the Premier League are opening up discussions between the referee and the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) for key incidents this season. In the third instalment of "Match Officials: Mic'd Up", Howard Webb, chief operating officer at PGMOL, the organisation that oversees the League’s match officials, discusses four incidents from the last four weeks.
Webb and Michael Owen go through the conversation between the match officials to give fans greater knowledge of how decisions are made. The officials on the pitch do not hear all the conversations from the VAR hub in Stockley Park.
The incidents covered below are: The incidents covered below are: Anthony Gordon’s goal v Arsenal; fouls by Kai Havertz and Bruno Guimaraes in the same match; Harry Maguire’s offside v Fulham; Hwang Hee-chan's penalty v Newcastle United; Cristian Romero’s red card and penalty v Chelsea.
Anthony Gordon's goal v Arsenal
Incident 1: After 64 minutes and with the score 0-0, Newcastle United substitute Joe Willock chases a loose cross and just prevents it from going out of play. He crosses and Joelinton jumps with Arsenal defender Gabriel at the back post. The ball falls for Anthony Gordon to scramble it in for the winning goal.
What the match officials did: A lengthy VAR check looks for the ball going out of play, a possible foul on Gabriel and an offside call. VAR confirms that the goal stands.
Webb: "This was a big moment - an unusual situation with three aspects for the VAR to check whether or not the on-field decision of goal should be overturned. We see the ball getting very close to the goalline - don’t forget we have an Assistant Referee who is right in line - the ball hasn't got a lot of pace as it goes to the goalline, so he's looking right down the line better than any of our cameras. And we know the ball is curved, so it can be over-hanging the line and we need evidence it's out, and we don’t have that here.
"The ball then comes over and Joelinton challenges Gabriel, and it could be a foul, might be a foul. The VAR decides that the evidence from the footage isn't clear enough to intervene with a recommendation for a review for a clear error.
"I think the talks we've seen after, the opinion that is split across a lot of analysis, would suggest that was a correct non-intervention because of the subjectivity. And then one of those unusual situations where the ball goes between two players, and trying to identify exactly when the ball leaves Joelinton, is really difficult to establish because of the players being so close together.
"So again, no conclusive evidence that Gordon was offside when the ball was last touched. The VAR went through that diligently and identified no clear evidence to intervene to overturn the goal. The process was actually correct."
Havertz & Guimaraes' challenges
Incidents 2 & 3: Newcastle's Sean Longstaff is brought down by Kai Havertz's lunging 37th-minute challenge. The arm of Newcastle midfielder Bruno Guimaraes strikes the side of the head of Arsenal's Jorginho.
What the match officials did: Referee Stuart Attwell shows a yellow card to Havertz, which the VAR reviews, sticking with the on-field decision. As the on-pitch officials did not see the Guimaraes incident, the VAR reviews but deems it not worthy of a red card.
Webb: "Quite a busy game wasn't it? A couple of situations, that in the cold-light-of-day analysis that we go through, going forward, we would expect red cards in both of those situations."
Maguire’s offside v Fulham
Incident: After eight minutes and the match goalless, from Bruno Fernandes's free-kick, Manchester United's Alejandro Garnacho squares a ball into Scott McTominay's path and the midfielder slides home at the back post.
What the match officials did: Referee John Brooks awards the goal, but after a VAR review looking at four possible offsides – Harry Maguire, Jonny Evans, Rasmus Hojlund and Garnacho - Brooks is recommended to review the incident on the Referee Review Area pitchside monitor and overturns the goal having judged Maguire to be offside.
Webb: "Just being in an offside position in itself isn't an offence - it all depends what you do in that position. If you touch the ball or play the ball, that's an offence interfering with play - that's factual. And when that happens, the referee doesn't need to go to the screen. But you can also commit an offence without touching the ball as an attacker in an offside position - it all depends what you do in that position - and that needs a judgment by the match officials. It depends whether you interfere with an opponent.
"What we see Harry Maguire do here is attempt to play a ball that's close to him; he challenges an opponent for the ball and he makes an obvious action by moving towards that defender, [Rodrigo] Muniz, which impacts that defender's ability to play the ball. If you take Maguire out of that situation, Muniz has got a really good opportunity to clear the ball before it [gets through] - but it needs a judgment by the officials. So, the VAR will ask the referee to go to the screen to make that subjective judgement, just like they do in all other subjective areas of the game. That's what we see in this situation. So, a good intervention, and correctly the referee was sent to the screen.
"I thought Sian Massey-Ellis was excellent. She flagged up to the VAR, Jarred Gillett, that Maguire had, in her opinion, interfered with Muniz. They worked as a team - we've asked them to do that, we've instructed them to share opinion. We've learnt from recent situations where that maybe hasn't always happened. This was a really good example of some great work by the AVAR.
Webb on semi-automated offsides
"I understand the frustration [over the length of time for VAR decisions]. Obviously if a situation is really close, it can take a bit of time, using the technologies to come out with the right answer. We're open-minded to all technologies that make us more accurate and make us more efficient. We're doing some testing behind-the-scenes, we'll see how that goes. We're keeping a close eye on other competitions, and we'll take a decision in terms of the best way to go forward with that."
Penalty for Newcastle v Wolves after Hwang Hee-chan fouls Fabian Schar
Incident: The score was level at 1-1 going into the fourth minute of first-half added time when Hwang Hee-chan attempts to clear a Newcastle corner, however, before he does, Newcastle’s Fabian Schar intercepts the ball, and the Wolves forward makes contact with the Swiss defender inside the box.
What the match officials did: Referee Anthony Taylor awards a penalty on-field, VAR reviews the decision and confirms his decision.
Webb: "We said from the outset that VAR shouldn't referee the game, it should reserve itself for clear situations when a clear error has occurred on the field and the VAR steps in to have that rectified.
“The VAR is looking for clear evidence of that error and weighing up the different considerations. For example, has the defender played the ball? Is there any contact between the players? In this situation we see that Hwang doesn't actually play the ball, the ball is played onto him by Schar and then there's contact between the two of them, but what the referee is seeing in real-time is Hwang bring that leg through, making contact with Schar.
"When we see the replay we can see that Hwang actually pulls his swing back a little bit, stops it from going right through, and Schar just brings his foot through and there's contact. We feel that this is a situation that reaches the threshold for being a clear and obvious error, even though there's contact and even though the ball isn't played by Hwang.
"We're asking the VARs, going forward with our instruction to have a look at it, to see where the considerations sit and if they don't like the decision on the field, ask the referee what they saw and if it's significantly different to what's been shown on the video, then recommend a review so that the referee can go to the screen and look at it again for himself. The starting point that the VAR thinks it's a clear error. In this situation the VAR didn't quite get there and in our opinion should have done."
Owen: Does the high bar that we often refer to interfere with the decision-making process?
Webb: "We think the high bar for intervention, which we apply, which UEFA apply as well, is good for consistency. There's a lot of subjective situations in our game which splits opinion.
“We don't want too much interference. We've seen negative comments about overinterference by VAR so by reserving it for clear situations, then we feel it serves the game best. Recognising those clear situations is important - it's where we put a lot of our time and effort into the training and this type of situation reaches that threshold, and that's the advice we've given to our VARs going forward."
Romero’s red card and penalty v Chelsea
What the match officials did: The assistant’s flag goes up for an offside against Nicolas Jackson. The VAR advises referee Michael Oliver that Jackson is offside, Cristian Romero commits serious foul play for a tackle on Enzo Fernandez in the build-up to the goal. Oliver views the passage of play pitchside and confirms a straight red card for Romero and a penalty for Chelsea.
Webb: "What a great game this was; intense, a great spectacle for the Premier League. I thought the officials did really well on the field and also in the VAR hub. We're seeing a situation here where a penalty is missed on the field, but these are not always easy to identify in full speed. I know the check took a bit of time, but the VAR had to go through that process diligently to establish whether Jackson was in an offside position, and if he was, which was the on-field call, then let's have a look at what happened before that with Romero going in on Enzo...yes, winning the ball, but coming through with that contact above the ankle which is ultimately what the penalty and red card were awarded for. So excellent process."
Owen: "It's clear to see that Romero gets the ball. Explain to fans why that's not the be-all and end-all, why is it still a red card?"
Webb: "Just playing the ball in itself does not allow you to follow through in this way. We don't see many contacts like this when the ball has been played and that's for a reason. Players normally take care when playing the ball to avoid this sort of thing from happening and this clearly endangers the safety of Enzo with excessive force. When we see that full speed and in slow motion it's a red card and it's a good intervention."
Glossary of terms
VAR: Video Assistant Referee; AVAR: Assistant Video Assistant Referee; RO: replay operator; APP: attacking phase of play.
UK users can watch the whole "Match Officials Mic-ed Up" video on Sky Sports and TNT Sports, which includes Webb reviewing two further incidents this weekend: the Luton goal disallowed for a Tom Lockyer push v Spurs last weekend and the Anthony Martial goal disallowed for offside v Brentford. International users can access the full video with their local rights-holder.