Match Officials Mic'd Up: Webb analyses key incidents in MW17-21

16 Jan 2024

PGMOL's Howard Webb explains decision-making process for Luton’s goal at Burnley and more

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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 fifth instalment of "Match Officials: Mic'd Up", Howard Webb, chief operating officer at PGMOL, the organisation that oversees the League’s match officials, discusses five 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 are:
-Carlton Morris late equaliser v Burnley 
-Raul Jimenez red card v Newcastle 
-Penalty for Kulusevski shirt pull v Brighton  
-Odegaard possible handball v Liverpool 
-Penalty for Onana handball v Man City 

Carlton Morris late equaliser 

Incident: In stoppage time, a ball is crossed into the box, that Burnley goalkeeper James Trafford goes to collect. In so doing, he collides with Luton Town forward Elijah Adebayo. This leaves Luton's Carlton Morris free to head the ball in for the equaliser. 

What the match officials did: Referee Tony Harrington awards the goal. After review the VAR confirms the on-field decision.

Webb: "Clearly [this was] a really important moment at the end of this big Premier league game. The on-field decision is always important for us when we're thinking about how we utilize the addition of VAR. In this situation, the on-field officials felt there was no foul. They saw two players coming together.

"You hear the assistant referee as well in the moment confirming what the referee has seen as well. So the starting point is they don't think it's a foul. The VAR looks at that in that context to see whether or not that decision, in his opinion, is a clear-and-obvious error.

"The AVAR actually felt it might be [a foul]. You could hear he's talking a little bit more about the attacker's movement in the situation. You see the goalkeeper Trafford coming out.

"You see Adebayo moving. He's always moving in that direction. At the very end of the the piece, there's a little movement sort of like towards the goalkeeper. Some people see this as normal football contact.

"I can understand why Burnley would expect a free-kick in this situation. But I've also spoken to a whole host of people who don't see it that way at all, who see it as that normal football contact that the officials on the field saw at that moment.

"Again, the split between the VAR and AVAR suggests it's not something very clear, and VAR was brought into rectify very clear situations.

"I understand why you think a foul might be the better decision, but that's a different question to whether or not the non-award of a foul is clearly wrong. I think this is the perfect clip to educate people about VAR because for the people that think it's a foul on the goalkeeper, I can see it, and I don't think everybody should make a pathway for the goalkeeper to come and collect the ball.

"The problem with it is that if you feel this is a foul, you feel strong, it's a foul. Conversely, somebody who sees this as not a foul probably thinks there's no reason why it should be disallowed.

"So if we start to interject in situations that are more grey than black and white, then we end up changing decisions that, that a whole host of people think are right in the first place.

"And very quickly, you know, people would lose an understanding of what VAR exists for if we work within that subjective, subjective area. 

"The VAR looked at the evidence provided, listened to what the on-field officials had said and formed a judgment in his professional opinion that this was one that would split opinion.

"And it has, I saw a poll online that's, that I think was 60 40 split on that. But if you are part of that 60 per cent, you see a clear situation.

"So we, you know, we, we try to reserve the use of it for those situations that are very clear, that don't create that much debate in the way that this one has.

 "Uh, but don't expect perfection. Yeah. Because Perfection's a really difficult thing to achieve in a world that throws up so much subjectivity that throws up so much opinion in the way that this clip has and sometimes will, will miss the mark on on that.

"And the world tells us after the game that we should have intervened and we didn't. And there's very little debate and we've just missed the spot. But more often than not, we don't when we do intervene in the right way.

"And this was one, when you look at that fallout, that feedback that people have given us on this one, including many professional footballers, that it was a good goal. Then the VAR in the end in that context came out in the right place by recognizing that this was one that was split opinion."

Raul Jimenez red card v Newcastle

Incident: Raul Jimenez jumps with his leg raised then pulls back his leg, but the hip of Jimenez still makes contact with the head of Newcastle United's Sean Longstaff

What the match officials did: Referee Sam Barrott's issues a yellow card to Jimenez. The VAR reviews the incident and deems the foul to be dangerous play and worthy of a red card, recommending Barrott to review the incident in the Referee Review Area (RRA). After review Barrott changes the on-field decision to a red card. 

Jimenez on Longstaff #1

Owen: "'Endangering the safety of an opponent’ is a phrase we heard quite a lot in that clip. Just give us an idea of what's the threshold, where do we start and end there?"

Webb: "So when we're officiating the game, we're looking at challenges. We're looking at a range of severity, from careless where there's no real danger or possible danger.

"It's a free-kick and that's just a free kick and nothing more through to reckless where there's an element of danger, but it's pretty low level. 

"There's a recklessness about the action because there was a potential for danger to the opponent.

"And then there's excessive force and endangering the safety of the opponent, as we see in this case, whereby the only option is a red.

"When you look at this clip, the referee on the field felt it was reckless because he felt it was the body going into the body from his position. Didn't recognize that actually the point of contact was a hip going into the head of Longstaff.

"Combined with the fact that he jumps into that from some distance. He's not just jumping from a stationary position in this contact that jump in shows that there's force into the head.

"You see the head flying backwards. So anybody who sees that kind of definitive angle that we show to the referee at the screen would clearly agree that it is serious foul play because it endangers Longstaff - the force from the hip going into the head."

Owen: "On that weekend, we saw referees go to the monitor and the first replay they saw was in real-time. Was there something changed that weekend?"

Webb: "There was some criticism around slow motion distorting the reality. So we're now looking at it in full speed first time so we can get a sense of the intensity and the speed from the player that indicates force and then have a look at the freeze frame of the slow motion for the exact point of contact.

"But full speed is really important in judging the severity of the tackle. Otherwise we can go down a wrong road."

Penalty for Kulusevski shirt pull v Brighton

Incident: From a Brighton & Hove Albion corner the ball falls in the box, and as Danny Welbeck attempts to make contact Dejan Kulusevski pulls his shirt.

What the match officials did: Referee Jarred Gillett does not award a foul. The VAR suggests to Gillett to review the incident at the RRA. After review, Gillet awards the penalty and issues a yellow card for Kulusevski.

Kulusevski on Welbeck #1
Kulusevski on Welbeck #2
Kulusevski on Welbeck #3

Webb: "'Sustained holding' it means the holding is more than just a fleeting little pull of the shirt, which has no impact in this case.

"You can see Kulusevski pulls Welbeck back for some time, even in full speed. Welbeck can't get to the ball. There's lots I like about this clip. The fact that they are pretty decisive. They stop the game as soon as they recognize there's a need to have this reviewed.

"They [the VAR] check the attacking phase of play while the referee goes to the screen to speed up the process as well. Clear communication and I think exactly what VAR is there for, this is a miss on the field by the referee.

"It's a clear situation. Doesn't create debate when you look at that image. It's absolutely a penalty. And we get to the right decision."

Odegaard possible handball v Liverpool 

Incident: Mohamed Salah attempts to flick the ball round Martin Odegaard, but the ball hits the arm of the Arsenal captain. 

What the match officials did: Referee Chris Kavanagh doesn't award a handball or a penalty. The VAR reviews the incident and confirms the on-field decision.

Odegaard non-penalty v Liverpool #1
Odegaard non-penalty v Liverpool #2

Owen: "I thought it was a penalty."

Webb: "So do I. The referee on the field recognized that Odegaard had slipped and saw his arm go towards the ground. 

"We talk about 'supporting arms'. If somebody falls, breaks their fall with the arm, it's all very natural and a pretty well-established concept. In this situation. though, there's an important difference to a normal play that's falling.

"This is not just Odegaard accidentally falling on to the ball. He does slip, his arm does go out, but he actually pulls his arm back in towards his body, which is when the ball makes contact with the arm."

"The VAR looked at that aspect. He felt it was a case of Odegaard trying to make himself actually smaller by bringing the arm back towards the body. That is the element that's important here.

"Whether it's instinctive or deliberate, he gets a huge advantage by bringing the arm back towards the ball. All the feedback we got afterwards was very clear. The game expects a penalty in this situation. I would agree."

Penalty for Onana handball v Man City 

Incident: Manchester City's Nathan Ake takes a shot in the box that hits the arm of the on-rushing Everton midfielder Amadou Onana.

What the match officials did: Referee John Brooks awards the penalty for handball after receiving confirmation from his assistant. The VAR checks and confirms the on-field decision.

Onana penalty v Man City #1
Onana penalty v Man City #2

Webb: "Handball still remains the most subjective area. 

"I think we have got this one right on this occasion. The officials work together, the referee and the assistant referee, to come to the on-field decision of handball.

"They see Onana's hand up by his head and in that position it blocks a shot towards goal. I don't for minute think that he meant to do that, but you don't have to commit humble offense because the laws talk about taking a risk by putting your hand in that position.

"He's reaching out with his foot to try to block the shot. He doesn't do that, but his arm is up there and it blocks the shot. There's lots of controversy if we don't give this.

"The VAR's going to look at it and see whether that's clearly and obviously wrong. And he's not going to come to that conclusion when he sees the arm up by the side of the head blocking a shot towards goal and therefore a credible penalty-kick outcome."

"At full speed it's difficult to see the trajectory of the ball [and whether it is on target or not]. I mean it's going only a short distance and people will talk to us about short distance.

"Does that matter? And sometimes that can be something you factor in. But in this situation the arm was quite low. When it makes contact with the ball, it's gone quite high.

"And if it had stayed lower down, then we wouldn't have given a penalty."

On assistant referees not raising flags for offsides

Incidents: Man City defender John Stones pulls up injured chasing a ball over the top for which the Everton forward Beto is offside but this is flagged only after the threat of a goal is gone. Similarly at Newcastle, Man City 'keeper Ederson gets injured in a collision for a ball in a Newcastle attack that is then flagged for offside. 

Beto potential offside

Webb: "In circumstances where the play is clearly offside, the flag should go straight up. In situations where there's no real great attacking opportunity, the flag should go straight up.

"The flag should only be delayed when the assistant in their professional judgment recognizes a really close one and there's a great opportunity to go through and score.

"The one when John Stones became injured was exactly that. Beto was through on goal, great last-ditch tackle by John Stones. The flag was delayed because the assistant knew it was close and we know that he was 3cm offside because we track every offside the decision.

"So the assistant did everything right. I know it attracts negative attention sometimes, but we do it because we want to allow goals to stand that are good goals without interfering with the game by flagging early, knowing that we could be wrong and we're not wrong often on offside, but sometimes we can be.

"As long as we only do it in those circumstances, which reduces the number of times, and we keep pointing out to our officials when they are too cautious and delay when they don't need to. That way, we can limit the number of times that can happen [and] reduce the risk of injury."

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. International users can access the full video with their local rights-holder.

Also in this series

Part 1: Matchweek 1-4
Part 2: Matchweeks 5-8
Part 3: Matchweeks 9-12
Part 4: Matchweeks 13-16

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