The Video Assistant Referee stirs up controversy every week, and we look at all the big incidents. The Saturday, Marcus Rashford thought he had given Manchester United the lead in their 3-1 win over Reading in the FA Cup (stream a replay on ESPN+, US only), only for the goal to be ruled out for offside in the build-up. Was it correct and how does it compare to other recent decisions?
– How VAR decisions have affected each Prem club in 2022-23
– VAR in the Premier League: ultimate guide
What happened: At the 35th minute, casemiro attempted to play a through ball than the Reading defender Thomas Holmes attempted to intercept. The ball looped and fell on Wout Weghorstwho headed towards Rashford’s goal to score from close range.
After a VAR review, the goal was disallowed as Weghorst was in an offside position when Casemiro played the ball, and the striker was the next United player to get involved (look here.)
Rashford’s goal overruled by VAR decision
Marcus Rashford put Manchester United ahead but the goal was disqualified after VAR was offside.
VAR review: Even if Casemiro didn’t try to pass the ball to Weghorst, it doesn’t matter in the offside law. The timing of the pass defines the offside position of all attackers in relation to the penultimate opposing player, and it then depends on how the ball reaches an attacker.
This goes directly to the definition of “deliberate play” in the offside law. We hear a lot about this in the modern game, even though it’s been in the laws for many years. The IFAB has attempted to clear up much of the mystery behind its interpretation in summer, but its application is still incredibly subjective and very frustrating for many supporters.
Just calling it a “deliberate play” is confusing in itself, because in almost every case a player is trying to play the ball deliberately. The definition is much more complex and concerns, above all, a player having control of his actions and the destination of the ball.
If a player stretches, makes a reflex action or blocks a shot or cross, this should not be considered “deliberate play”. It is not the same as a poor clearance attempt in which the player has time and space to play the ball.
“Deliberate play” is when a player has control of the ball with the ability to:
– pass the ball to a teammate
– take possession of the ball
– clear the ball (for example by kicking it or directing it).
The criteria for identifying “deliberate play”:
– the ball traveled a distance and the player had a clear view of it
– the ball was not going fast
– the direction of the ball was not unexpected
– the player had time to coordinate their body movements, i.e. it was not an instinctive stretch or jump, or a movement that achieved contact/control limit
– a ball moving on the ground is easier to play than a ball in the air
For Holmes, two of these clauses are important. First, the ball didn’t travel far, Casemiro was relatively close when he played the ball. And above all, the Reading player did not have time to coordinate his body movements. While attempting to cut off Casemiro’s pass, Holmes made a blocking action with the outside of his right boot, curling the ball. This was not a pass attempt or controlled clearance and falls squarely within the definition of a limited contact/control move.
There was no doubt that Weghorst was in an offside position, so as soon as VAR Lee Mason identifies that the play was not deliberate, the only possible decision is to disallow the goal. That said, as this was a subjective appeal, referee Darren England really should have been sent to the monitor to confirm the decision, rather than just being made by VAR alone.
The problem with subjective decisions, of course, is that consistency is ultimately impossible as the judgment is up to each referee, assistant and VAR. And those offside elements are so complex that we’re always going to have outliers, like Rashford being given onside for Bruno Fernandes‘ goal against Manchester City. As confirmed by the Premier League’s Independent Review Panel, it was not an incorrect decision in law by referee Stuart Attwell, and VAR was right not to intervene to disallow the goal.
Look Mohammad Salahgoal against Wolverhampton Wanderers in the FA Cup earlier this month (stream a replay on ESPN+, US only). Liverpool took the lead in the 52nd minute when Cody Gakpo tried to find Salah with a bullet overhead. Wolves defender Toti tried unsuccessfully to clear with a header, and Salah recovered the loose ball to score.
A header attempt is deemed more in favor of the defender than a kick. This is because there is generally less control in the head of a ball. If a defender has to stretch or jump to direct the ball, that’s an extra layer to determine that it’s not “deliberate play”. VAR in this case, Mike Dean, chose not to intervene as he decided it was just a bad header attempt from Toti, who was controlling the action. It might have been a better decision to dismiss Salah’s goal, and it provides an excellent example of how two seemingly similar situations in the same area of law can produce opposite results.
On Friday, in Man City’s 1-0 victory over Arsenal (stream a replay on ESPN+, US only), we saw two other incidents that raised questions from fans, with both teams having a player ruled offside without touching the ball.
In the first half, Bukayo Saka was ruled offside despite not attempting to play or run for the ball. The Arsenal players were left puzzled, and while it was harsh, there was a valid explanation in law for the assistant to raise the flag.
After the ball has been played forward by Fabio Vieradefender Nathan Ake apparently has to escape Saka before reaching the ball and making what was a bad clearance. Saka’s presence in Ake’s path was enough for the assistant to raise the flag, although there is an argument that there was no real interference with the defender. Again, this is subjective to the helper and you may see similar cases where the flag does not rise.
It’s completely different from Rashford’s offside position in the Manchester derby, whatever you think of that decision, because no City player has ever been within playing distance of the ball or attempted to pass the offside player.
Then in the second half against Arsenal, moments after coming off the bench, Julian Alvarez was kicked out after Kevin De Bruyne played the ball.
Alvarez had come back from an offside position and tried to challenge Albert Sambi Lokonga. Even if he didn’t actually touch the Arsenal player, it is considered interference with an opponent and a valid offside decision.