The VAR Review: Were West Ham denied a penalty at Man United?


Video Assistant Referee causes controversy every week in the Premier League, but how are decisions made, and are they correct?

After each weekend we take a look at the major incidents, to examine and explain the process both in terms of VAR protocol and the Laws of the Game.

– How VAR decisions have affected every Prem club in 2023-24
– VAR in the Premier League: Ultimate guide

In this week’s VAR Review: Should West Ham United have been awarded a penalty against Manchester United? And what about the spot kick Wolverhampton Wanderers were given against the Red Devils on Thursday? Plus, all the incidents from Arsenal’s win over Liverpool, and Everton’s dramatic home draw with Tottenham Hotspur.


Possible penalty: Challenge by Casemiro on Álvarez

What happened: James Ward-Prowse delivered a corner into the area in the 11th minute, with Tomás Soucek seeing his deflected header saved by André Onana. But was there a foul on Edson Álvarez as ball came over?

VAR decision: No penalty.

VAR review: It brings us back to the discussion about when holding is an offence, when it’s being carried out by both players, or if it’s inconsequential to a passage of play. All this has to be taken into account when the VAR in deciding if there’s been a clear and obvious error.

There’s all kinds of holding and grappling off the ball on every set piece. It can be argued is that this should be penalised more often to discourage players from trying it, yet the VAR will usually only get involved if the holding has a material impact.

While the holding could be considered to have restricted Álvarez’s ability to properly deflect Soucek’s header into the goal, he too has an arm around the Manchester United player and is backing in, so there would need to be more than a simple holding offence from Casemiro; the only real consideration for the VAR would be the position of Casemiro’s arms towards Álvarez’s neck.

It looks far worse on still images that in real-time speed, and it’s unlikely to have sufficient impact for a VAR review in the Premier League.

Also, while the ball touched Casemiro’s arm to cause the deflection, this couldn’t be considered a handball offence as it wasn’t creating a barrier to goal that would by itself have stopped the path of the ball.


Possible penalty overturn: Challenge by Casemiro on Neto

What happened: A game from Thursday night, and the end of the midweek round of Premier League games. In the 68th minute, Pedro Neto attempted to check inside and went down after a challenge from Casemiro. Referee Jarred Gillett pointed to the penalty spot and the decision was checked by the VAR, Paul Tierney.

VAR decision: Penalty stands, scored by Pablo Sarabia.

VAR review: Casemiro dangles out a leg, contact is minimal but Neto uses it and goes to ground theatrically. Football would much rather the VAR intervenes in situations like this, when a player is clearly trying to influence an official by exaggerating contact. The VAR wouldn’t give a spot kick for this, so it feels wrong it would be allowed to stand.

It shows how a referee has to assess incidents differently — whether they are on the pitch or in the VAR hub. Tierney was the referee for the Liverpool vs. Chelsea game 24 hours earlier, when he had turned down penalty appeals from the away side. Then he sees a soft penalty awarded when he’s the VAR, but doesn’t intervene because the threshold for an intervention hasn’t been reached.

Earlier this season Howard Webb, the chief refereeing officer, said he wanted the VAR to step in and stop soft penalties. That came after, coincidentally, Wolves were on the wrong end of decisions against Newcastle United and Sheffield United — which the Independent Key Match Incidents Panel said should both have been cancelled.

Perhaps in this case there was more of an obvious challenge than in the two decisions that went against Wolves, but finding the right balance on clear and obvious interventions is still problematic and the VAR is loathe to intervene if they can find evidence of contact.


Possible disallowed goal: Offside against Saka

What happened: Arsenal took the lead in the 14th minute, but there was a check for offside against the goal scorer, Bukayo Saka.

VAR decision: Goal stands.

VAR review: Saka was in front of the ball but behind the last defender, Ibrahima Konaté.

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Possible disallowed goal: Handball by Gabriel

What happened: Liverpool equalised just before half-time when Diogo Jota helped the ball on and it went in off Gabriel. But can a goal be scored off an arm?

VAR decision: Goal stands.

VAR review: While an attacking player cannot score if the ball hits their hand immediately before going into the goal this doesn’t apply to own goals. So, a defender can accidently “score” with their arm or hand.

If the ball hadn’t gone into the goal there would have been a strong case for a handball penalty as Gabriel’s arm appears to move towards the ball.

Possible red card: Konate challenge on Havertz

What happened: There’s a debate to be had over whether there really was a foul by Konate on Kai Havertz, but that aspect isn’t for the VAR, David Coote. However, was there a case for a red card for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity (DOGSO)?

VAR decision: No red card.

VAR review: Among the elements for a DOGSO red card are the attacking player being in possession of the ball, as well as the distance from goal. As two players were jostling for a bouncing ball, and Havertz isn’t yet in control. It’s not certain he would be able to take it on and have a strong chance at scoring, especially as Virgil van Dijk is coming back to cover.

If the VAR had sent the referee to the monitor for the red card, Taylor would in fact have retained the right not only to reject the red-card review for DOGSO, but even to change his own decision from a free kick and a yellow card. Once a referee has been sent to the screen they are in charge of any final outcome, regardless of how rare it is for them to go against the VAR.

Konate would go on to receive a second yellow card when blocked Havertz on a break, raising his arms to stop the forward’s run.

Possible penalty: Mac Allister challenge on Havertz

What happened: Havertz raced into the area in the 63rd minute and went down in a challenge with Alexis Mac Allister. Referee Taylor had the perfect view behind the players and immediately signalled that play should continue. Alisson Becker made a long clearance from the loose ball.

VAR decision: No penalty.

VAR review: It’s unclear from the replays if there was really even any kind of challenge made, with the coming together a result of Havertz placing his right foot across Mac Allister to try to keep possession of the ball.

Not enough in this for the VAR to consider a spot kick.


Possible disallowed goal: Challenge by Harrison on Vicario

What happened: Everton equalised for the first time in the 30th minute. A corner came in from the right, it was headed back across goal by James Tarkowski, then Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s header went in off Jack Harrison. Referee Michael Oliver awarded the goal, but was there a foul on goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario? The VAR, Stuart Attwell, began a check.

VAR decision: Goal stands.

VAR review: We discussed in last week’s VAR Review how challenges on the goalkeeper have been left to the on-field decision for the most part this season — save for one overturn in Aston Villa’s 1-1 draw with Sheffield United when Jacob Ramsey was holding onto the arm of Wes Foderingham as a cross was played over.

Since then there have been a series of incidents involving minor contact with a keeper inside the six-yard box. Indeed, Vicario himself conceded a goal against Manchester City in the FA Cup last month when Rúben Dias was applying a similar amount of limited pressure before Nathan Aké scored the winner.

Whether a goalkeeper has been impacted will always be a judgement call — Oliver did give free kicks in the Tottenham Hotspur player’s favour when he felt the line had been crossed. It seems that Vicario may well be the focus of attention for opposition players on set pieces going forward, something that Spurs boss Ange Postecoglou will have to combat.

Nothing has changed with the interpretation in the Premier League, perhaps it’s more a case of attackers seeing what they can get away with more often.

There can be no offside against Harrison because when Calvert-Lewin heads it both Vicario and a Spurs defender are inside the goal, and the law states those players are considered to be on the goal-line.

Possible penalty: Dragusin foul on Beto

What happened: A cross was delivered into the area in the 90th minute, with Beto going to ground under a challenge from Radu Dragusin. The Everton player wanted a penalty, but the referee waved play on.

VAR decision: No penalty.

VAR review: While Dragusin is holding Beto’s shirt for a short time this isn’t going to be enough to be seen as a clear and obvious error. Beto goes too ground easily for a VAR intervention.

Possible disallowed goal: Offside against Coleman

What happened: Everton grabbed an equaliser in the fourth minute of added time when Jarrad Branthwaite headed home from close range after a free kick delivered into the area by James Garner. But was there an offside in the move?

VAR decision: Goal stands.

VAR review: There was no issue over an offside position for Branthwaite, who ran from behind the Spurs defence to score. This decision was about the role of Seamus Coleman, who had was close to defender Cristian Romero as he attempted to head the free kick away from danger.

If Coleman had been in front of the last defender, the goal would have been ruled out for challenging an opponent from an offside position.

If Branthwaite had been in fact been offside it’s unlikely the VAR would consider the flicked header from Romero to be a controlled “deliberate play” to reset the phase, so the goal would most likely have been ruled out.

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Possible penalty: Position of foul by Burn on Ogbene

What happened: Chiedozie Ogbene burst past Dan Burn in the 55th minute, with the Newcastle United defender holding onto the shoulder of the midfielder. Referee Thomas Bramall awarded a free kick just outside the area after the assistant had flagged, and the VAR checked for a possible penalty.

VAR decision: Penalty, scored on a retake by Carlton Morris.

VAR review: When a player is fouled by a opponent making a tackle, it’s the point of contact which causes the offence which determines where it took place. Yet when it comes to holding, if that starts outside the box but continues into it then a penalty is awarded.

Once the VAR, Michael Salisbury, was able to confirm on the replays that Burn still had his arm on Ogbene’s shoulder once the penalty-area line had been reached, he has to intervene to award the spot kick.

The referee didn’t need to go to the monitor to review it himself as it was a factual decision based on position, rather a subjective consideration on the foul.

The penalty had to be retaken because the referee had his back to the goal sorting out the position of the other players on the edge of the area.

Possible disallowed goal: Challenge by Miley on Barkley

What happened: Newcastle equalised in the 73rd minute when Harvey Barnes scored from outside the area, but was there a foul immediately before the goal?

VAR decision: Goal stands.

VAR review: While there was a coming together between Lewis Miley and Ross Barkley and a case for a foul, it was the Newcastle player who got to the ball first and was indeed credited with an assist for the goal.

If Miley hadn’t won the ball there would have a been a stronger argument for the VAR to intervene.


Possible penalty overturn: Gusto challenge on Cunha

What happened: Wolves were awarded a spot kick in the 80th minute when Malo Gusto was adjudged to have fouled Matheus Cunha. Referee Tim Robinson pointed to the spot with the decision checked by the VAR, Simon Hooper.

VAR decision: Penalty stands, scored by Cunha.

VAR review: While Gusto does poke a toe to the ball he has to go through Cunha when stretching to get to it, making contact with the Wolves player’s shin with his knee.

It won’t be consider an error for the referee to point to the penalty spot.


Possible red card overturn: Challenge by Billing on Hudson-Odoi

What happened: Philip Billing was shown a straight red card by referee Rebecca Welch in the 87th minute when he brought down Callum Hudson-Odoi in the centre circle. The VAR, Peter Bankes, checked if the card should be downgraded.

VAR decision: Red card stands.

VAR review: While a referee looks for force and intensity as a key factor in determining a red card for serious foul play, the act of endangering the safety of an opponent can alone be considered a red-card offence.

Billing has no hope of playing the ball and stands on Hudson-Odoi in a dangerous manner which could have injured the Nottingham Forest midfielder, so the VAR isn’t going to tell the referee she’s made a mistake. Had Billing just tripped Hudson-Odoi then a yellow card would have been a more suitable sanction for stopping a promising attack.

A comparable incident from last season was Emerson Royal’s was red card after a Arsenal forward Gabriel Martinelli in the north London derby.


Some parts of this article include information provided by the Premier League and PGMOL.



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