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 fourth 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:
- Kai Havertz's handball v Aston Villa
- Penalty awarded after review in Palace v Liverpool
- Not playing advantage in Man City v Spurs
- Penalty in Everton v Man Utd
- Two overturns of penalties in Chelsea v Brighton
Kai Havertz's handball v Aston Villa
What the match officials did: Referee Jarred Gillett rules out the goal and awards a handball against Havertz. The VAR confirms the decision.
Webb: "The law states that any contact with an attacker’s hand or arm – even accidental – which then leads to a goal being scored immediately has to be penalised. And this is actually a really good on-field decision by the referee, Jarred Gillett, in that respect. The law requires him to penalise when he sees that contact on Kai Havertz’s arm.
"It’s not intentional, but it still has to be penalised. I think the idea was that if it comes off the arm, it can’t be a fair goal – that was the reason why this law came in. But we see this kind of situation leading to a goal disallowed when it hits Havertz’s arm and yet a few seconds earlier, it hits Matty Cash’s arm as well – equally accidentally – but he doesn’t get penalised.
"He can’t be penalised, because he’s got to commit a different offence as a defender – he’s got to make himself unnaturally bigger or deliberately handle the ball. He does none of those, so it’s correct not to penalise, but we’re working with a different threshold for the attacker. It hits Havertz’s hand, and we have to disallow the goal in this circumstance.
"This law has been in place for, I think, about five years now. It was decided by the International FA Board [IFAB], through their consultation, that goals that are scored off the arm are not fair, and therefore this law came in. The laws are always under review, maybe it will change, but in this circumstance, the referee did absolutely the right thing.
"And then once the on-field decision has been given as a disallowed goal, then the VAR checks the footage, just to make sure the referee has not mistakenly seen a contact on the arm. In that case, the goal should stand, if it’s only hit the body.
"But of course, the VAR has to check if there’s clear evidence that the ball did not hit the hand to intervene. If it’s not conclusive, they’ll just leave this on-field decision alone. But actually, when you see the VAR’s process, they do get to the point where they see an angle that shows the contact on Havertz’s arm.
"Interestingly, if it had been Nketiah who had scored the goal, it would have stood, because it only relates to the goalscorer – in this case, Havertz, who made contact with the arm. It didn’t hit Nketiah’s arm – if he pokes it in, it’s a goal, because everything before that was all accidental.
"He [Gillett]’s got a clean view of it, what, from 25 yards out. He does [make a good decision in real time]. And we’re always encouraging the officials, even with the existence of VAR, to be prepared to make positive, accurate, on-field calls. We’ve said for a long time, good officiating starts on the field of play.
"VAR is not there to referee the game – it’s there as a safety net for clear errors. Jarred sees this situation clearly from that position and penalises, and is right to do so – credit to him for doing that."
Penalty awarded after review in Palace v Liverpool
What the match officials did: Referee Andy Madley doesn't believe there is sufficient contact to award the spot-kick and while the match continues, the VAR officials deliberate whether a penalty should be awarded. After a review, Madley is advised to go to the on-pitch monitor to evaluate his initial decision. Madley then changes his initial call and awards a penalty to Palace.
Webb: "I think that’s a very clear penalty-kick situation. It was not seen by the on-field referee in real time, and the VAR’s there to check for that significant contact by Quansah into the back of Mateta, who’s the only one to touch the ball.
"Play continues, of course, because the referee waves away the penalty appeal. As the game’s continuing, the VAR is checking the angles available to see if there is that clear and obvious error, and recognises that there is one. You then hear him say to the referee, 'I’m checking the APP [attacking phase of play].' At that point, he’s already formed the opinion that he’s going to be sending the referee to the screen. "But he needs to check the phase of play before the penalty to make sure that there’s no offside in the build-up, which would negate the award of the penalty, or another offence by the attacking team.
"I think a better way to do this would be to stop the game at that moment, as soon as the VARs recognise that a review is going to be needed for the penalty.
"That stops anything else happening in the game, it gets us away from this feeling that it’s taking a long time to check this. And I think, going forward, that’s what we’d rather see – the game being stopped as soon as VAR recommends… or identifies a review is needed to be recommended. And then we send the referee to the screen while the APP’s being checked in that moment. It would make the process a bit more efficient.
"It’s described as significant contact in the calf by Quansah; it’s impactful. Mateta plays the ball, and yeah, a clear penalty, a clear and obvious error not to give the penalty.
"Sometimes, we’ll see contact less than that, that’s less impactful – it’s a bit of a sliding scale, but at some point, it’s going to be an offence, and this is certainly, in my opinion, one of those."
No advantage in Man City v Spurs
Incident: In stoppage time, Manchester City's Erling Haaland is fouled by Emerson Royal while receiving the ball in the centre circle, but gets back to his feet and plays a ball over the top for Jack Grealish.
What the match officials did: Referee Simon Hooper initially plays the advantage after Haaland is fouled but then blows for a foul after Haaland has made his pass.
Webb: "Yeah, it is an officiating mistake, and you’re right, the VAR has no part to play in this. Of course, we’re always looking, as officials, to have that positive influence on the game, by trying to identify occasions when we can allow the game to play through an advantage. And Simon Hooper, the referee on this occasion, is normally good at identifying those things.
"On this particular occasion, he sees a pretty strong, reckless foul challenge by Emerson Royal on Haaland. It’s in midfield, and the ball comes backwards. He does the hard work, he just hesitates a moment to see if an advantage is possible. But he recognises in his mind, thinking it through, that it was a strong challenge, it was reckless, he is going to have to caution.
"At ground level, it’s not quite so easy to see the way that things are playing out as it is from an elevated view. And he decides to penalise just at the moment as the ball’s about to go, he blows the whistle, and then realises that a wonderful advantage was available. And for sure, he was devastated. He’d refereed the game really well for 93 minutes, but he knows this is going to be the only talking point.
"Really close to the end of the game, I understand the disappointment that Manchester City felt on this one, because it would have been a wonderful advantage. He just formed the opinion to blow just at the wrong time. It looked like he was ready to play advantage.
"I said to him afterwards, 'Just hold your hands up. It’s difficult to be annoyed at a remorseful man. Just show your disappointment in the moment.' Because he was certainly feeling that at the time."
Penalty in Everton v Man Utd
What the match officials did: Referee John Brooks awards a yellow card to Martial for simulation but after looking at replays, the VAR recommends to Brooks that he carries out an on-field review. Brooks overturns his decision and awards a penalty to Man Utd.
Webb: "They can be tough. They happen quickly, you have to make an assessment very quickly. In this situation, the referee, John Brooks, believed that Ashley Young had retracted his leg, when actually he hadn’t. He did eventually, but it was still there as Martial moves forward in a straight line. You’re trying to look at the actions of the defender – does the defender play the ball? Does the attacker find the leg by deviating their path?
"All that has to be done in that moment, and that’s the reason we’ve got VAR – because then we can have another look at it. And again, if it’s in those grey zones where there’s a bit of a reach out by the defender, there’s a bit of an action by the attacker, then it’s not clear, then we’ll leave it alone, we’ll leave it to the on-field official. But in this case, we feel it is clear. We do feel that Young steps out into the path of Martial.
"Martial’s going in a straight line, doesn’t try to find the leg of Young. The leg comes across him. It’s a tripping action. Obviously, we see that the referee issues a yellow card for simulation to Martial, saying in his opinion, he’s gone down without contact because Young’s come back, and the video shows something quite different. So, in our opinion, this is a good use of VAR to rectify a clearly wrong on-field judgement."
First penalty overturn in Chelsea v Brighton
What the match officials did: Craig Pawson does not award a penalty and waves play on. The VAR recommends to Pawson to review the incident, and after the review he awards a penalty to Chelsea and issues Milner a yellow card.
Webb: "Not everybody thought it was quite at the threshold for a VAR intervention. I thought it was. I think the footage shows that Mudryk knocks the ball forward. He’s running on to the ball, past Milner. He’s got the pace to get there, and Milner goes into Mudryk.
"You’ll see the feet are important here, the feet go into Mudryk, and take him out as he’s closing down on the ball there. And for me, it’s a clear foul, and a correct recommendation by the VAR.
"If you commit a DOGSO offence, and there’s no attempt to play the ball, then it is a red card if it’s a cynical action of shoving, pulling, pushing, for example. But this year, they’ve changed the law slightly to include attempting to challenge for the ball being a yellow card.
"So in this case, the referee deemed that Milner had attempted to challenge for the ball. OK, he wasn’t in the action of actually playing the ball at that moment, but he was trying to get into that position, challenging Mudryk for the ball, and therefore, he deemed it was worthy of a yellow card, based on that law change that came in this year. And again, it was a correct judgement to show a yellow card rather than a red.
"It wasn’t a cynical action – Milner’s trying to challenge Mudryk for the ball, and therefore, it’s a yellow card rather than a red."
Second penalty overturned
Incident 2: Levi Colwill is penalised for a handball with his hand raised.
What the match officials did: Pawson awards a spot-kick but upon the recommendation of the VAR, the penalty is overturned and a drop-ball is given.
Webb: "It was [given as handball], and I think this situation does illustrate the value of VAR. Ninety-nine minutes, it’s a 3-2 game to Chelsea, and the ball gets crossed in. It hits Colwill and his arm is up when it hits him.
"It goes out over the goal-line for what would have been a corner, but the referee, in real time, determines that the ball hit Colwill’s raised right arm. The video shows that’s not the case – it only hits his face – and therefore we’ve got the benefit of VAR, being able to look at this, intervene, rectify this by cancelling this wrongly awarded penalty. So a real example of the value of VAR in this big moment.
"Without that wrongly awarded penalty, that would have been a corner to Brighton – that’s what they should have had. The restart was given as a drop-ball. If the whistle goes while the ball’s in play, it has to be a drop-ball restart, but in this situation, it’s clearly already out of play, the ball. So therefore, we think a corner should have been given – that’s the feedback we’ve given to our group, going forward.
"And also, this is a factual matter – did the ball hit the arm or not? And the video clearly shows it didn’t. So we don’t think there’s a need to go to the screen in these circumstances – it takes a few more seconds. So let’s just change the decision as a factual matter, just as we do when it hits an attacker’s arm and goes into the goal.
"That’s going to save a bit of time, and we know that’s important when we’re trying to keep the efficiency of the process going."
Glossary of terms
VAR: Video Assistant Referee; AVAR: Assistant Video Assistant Referee; RO: replay operator; APP: attacking phase of play.