Following the advent of VAR in last season’s Champions League and the Premier League rolling out the system this season UEFA decided to adopt it within the Europa League from the knockout stages.
UEFA’s Referees’ Committee Chairman, Roberto Rosetti, explained that this was due to the positive impact seen in the Champions League.
He went on to highlight:
”We’re very happy with the figures that we’ve seen in the UEFA Champions League group phase and playoffs – in 108 matches in total, 27 decisions have been corrected through the VAR system, which means that a decision has only been overturned every four matches – this shows the quality of the referees’ performances.
”In addition, we feel that the time taken to overturn a decision is important. So far this season, the average time for the correction of a decision has been 1 minute 30 seconds – 15 seconds less than last season.”
So there’s our brief – how did it pan out for the five British Clubs as they began the knockout phase.
For Arsenal, Manchester United and Wolves it continued on from what they’d been working too in the Premier League since August – albeit the tolerance level for penalising handball is lower in Europe than domestically.
For Celtic and Rangers, both were treading new ground and both would see VAR rule for and against them.
Arsenal v Olympiakos, Emirates Stadium, second leg
Although VAR didn’t actually rule or recommend a review to the referee, its value was questioned post match by many pundits and supporters alike.
After 20 minutes Alexander Lacazette played a defence splitting pass to Ivory Coast international Pepe. His run took him clear of the Greek defence and towards the edge of the visitors’ penalty area. Ousseynou Ba, in pursuit, tripped Pepe from behind, ending his run.
No doubt a foul and awarded by the referee, who then produced a yellow card, presumably for unsporting behaviour. Many felt, myself included, there would be a recommendation to review and Ba would then see his punishment raised to a red card for denial of an obvious goal scoring opportunity. It never came, and for me, Ba very lucky to be on the field at the restart.
Manchester United v Club Brugge, Old Trafford, second leg
Some may describe as a strange VAR intervention but when you walk through the process, I feel a correct one.
United’s Daniel James attacks and aims a shot towards the far corner of the Brugge goal with ‘keeper Simon Mignolet struggling to cover. Defender, Simon Deli, dived full length to push the ball away with his arm.
No question a penalty and correctly awarded onfield. However, VAR posed referee, Serdar Gozubuyuk, the question – could Mignolet possibly have saved James’ shot.
Looking at the pitch side monitor it was clear Mignolet would have been beaten and the referee returned to the pitch, rightly dismissing Deli for the denying of a goal – an action the referee could not have been sure of from his onfield position.
Wolves played three matches in the group stages before the suspension of the competition. They beat Espanyol, Barcelona’s city rivals, over two legs and then played Arsenal’s previous round conquerors, Olympiakos.
Throughout the three ties VAR didn’t intervene – many of their supporters may have seen this as a massive relief having seen their team have four goals ruled out in the Premier League so far. Only Sheffield United, with five, have had more. Although Wolves did have a further goal disallowed by VAR in the FA Cup against Manchester United.
Celtic v Copenhagen, both legs
Celtic’s first ever VAR decision came in the Danish capital during the first leg.
As the ball was flighted into the penalty area, Ryan Christie leapt to make his challenge but misjudged it. He jumped with his arm out and was struck by the ball, no doubt. Looking at the criteria, was his arm extended from his body – yes. The VAR recommended a review and the referee concurred- penalty given.
A penalty brilliantly saved by Fraser Forster to keep the score 1-1 and set everything up for the return leg in Glasgow the following Thursday.
With Copenhagen leading 1-0 after 83 minutes a corner was played into the visitors’ penalty area. As it was cleared and then quickly returned there was a loud appeal for handball, which the referee declined.
I was actually at this match. Being behind the goal at the other end it was impossible for me to judge but the supporters at the opposite end were adamant.
As soon as the ball went out of play you saw the referee moving towards the pitch side monitor and you knew a review had been recommended. It was the first time I’d been in a ground for a decision like this. It generated a strange hiatus whereby you were wondering which way it would pan out.
As the referee re-entered the field miming the VAR overturn signal nigh on 60,000 home supporters, who had been waiting with baited breath, erupted into a celebration of excitement and relief as the penalty allowed Edouard to level the match.
Braga v Rangers, second leg
Rangers’ first experience of VAR was a penalty in their favour.
From Ryan Kent’s corner Raul Silva jumped to attempt to clear. His outstretched arm interrupted the flight of the ball and at the first stoppage the referee was called pitchside to review on his monitor.
Seeing from a different angle it was clear an offence had been committed and Hagi was given the task of taking the penalty. Although his shot was turned away by Home ‘keeper Matheus, it did not stop Rangers progressing and becoming the victim of VAR in the next round.
At home to Bayer Leverkusen a ball was cleared for a throw in without too much concern. Before it could be taken, referee Szymon Marciniak, was advised to take another look at the result of the original cross.
Some given for you, some given against you but when you break it all down, all given added to the referee on the night. The one that wasn’t – at The Emirates – still raised the same debate as if the VAR wasn’t there.
Positive start in this competition, and hopefully, when it recommences it will continue in the same vein.