3 weeks into the season and VAR has already stolen the soccer spotlight on numerous occasions. From robbing Manchester City of their late goal against Tottenham (yes, again) to denying the Spurs’ skipper a seemingly obvious penalty, the introduction of the new video assistant referee technology has been anything but subtle.
Stats show that there were around 130 checks over the first 20 games, with the majority being handball and offside reviews. Aymeric Laporte’s supposed handball in the lead up to Gabriel Jesus’ dramatic injury-time winner meant that City had to settle for their first draw of the 2019 Premier League campaign, whilst Dan Burn’s offside position prior to what would have been Leandro Trossard‘s debut goal prompted VAR to rule out Brighton’s first attempt to get on the scoresheet.
In contrast to the weekends before, the more recent VAR controversies have centred on happenings in the 18 yard box. Both David Silva and Harry Kane were brought down to the ground during their respective matches last Sunday, but neither were awarded penalties - with VAR refusing to overturn the referee’s original decision to play on.
Debates amongst fans and pundits followed, as they have after every weekend of Premier League matches so far. And if we are to listen to the International Football Association Board’s latest warning, it may be another 10 years before VAR is fully understood.
The lawmaking body has stated that the decade-long project is ‘still at the beginning’, with more time necessary for issues on the pitch to be ironed out. And whilst that may seem like an age to many fans, the success of VAR in Major League Soccer is surely a promising point of reference to look towards.
Out of the 1299 goals scored during the last season of America’s biggest soccer league, only 4 were allowed to stand when they should have been cancelled. This small margin of error led to MLS deputy commissioner Mark Abbott hailing VAR as a ‘tremendous success’ for US soccer, with the technology leading to fairer results across the board.
Across the pond however, scepticism surrounding VAR still overshadows the beautiful game. And with another weekend of matches coming up, there is no doubt that the technology will be a post-match talking point again. Only time will tell if it’ll be for the right or wrong reasons.
Ahead of the start of the 2019/20 season, a wide range of law changes have been introduced by the International Football Association Board. As the governing body who look after the sport’s laws, IFAB have implemented numerous amendments which will have an impact upon the beautiful game.
What are the new EPL laws being introduced this season?
There are many new laws that won’t really make much difference to the outcome of a match, and so aren’t hugely significant. For instance, drop balls have effectively been consigned to history, attacking players are no longer allowed to join the defence’s wall for a free-kick, and goal kicks no longer have to leave the penalty area before they can be played.
However, by far the most important new law is with regards to handball. According to the amended law, handball situations will be penalised, even if accidental, if:
the ball touches a player’s hand/arm which has made their body unnaturally bigger.
the ball touches a player’s hand/arm when it is above their shoulder (unless the player has deliberately played the ball which then touches their hand/arm).
These laws came into effect on June 1st, and we saw an example of it that very day in the Champions League final. Sadio Mané’s attempted cross hit Moussa Sissoko’s arm which was outstretched, and Liverpool were awarded a first minute penalty.
So we could probably expect to see more penalties in the Premier League in 2019/20 with the handball law change alone, but there is something of potentially even greater significance which is also coming in: VAR.
How will VAR impact the game?
We have seen during recent international tournaments that unexpected penalties have been awarded thanks to VAR, with fans complaining about the video assistant referee system on social media. But have more penalties been awarded since VAR was introduced?
At the 2018 World Cup in Russia, there were 29 penalties awarded. Across the previous six editions of international football’s showpiece occasion, there had been an average of 15.5 penalties, and not more than 18. That total was beaten in game 34 in summer 2018, only shortly past the tournament’s half way mark.
However, VAR hasn’t always made a difference. The recent Women’s World Cup in France saw a total of 25 penalties, which was more per game than the mens’ tournament 12 months earlier. But there were 22 at the 2015 Women’s World Cup, illustrating how the presence of video checking barely made a difference to the total.
Red and Yellow Cards
There isn’t anything in the statistics to suggest the number of red cards will increase dramatically next season either. There was only one more sending off at the latest Women's World Cup than during the previous edition, and the number seen at the mens’ competition has dropped to record low levels.
After there were a whopping 27 red cards issued in Germany in 2006, there were 17 in South Africa, 10 in Brazil and just four in Russia, where VAR was in use. The yellow card count in 2018 was up on the finals four years earlier, but still lower than in the four World Cups prior to that.
We therefore shouldn’t assume that VAR will automatically mean there will be more penalties and red cards. That said, the combination of video reviews and the new handball law does seem likely to see a spike in the spot kick numbers. What impact could this have in the Premier League?
Could VAR affect your soccer bets?
Full Time Results Markets
In a low scoring sport like football, a free shot from 12 yards often greatly affects the outcome of a match, as they’re converted approximately four times out of five.
Across the last three seasons in England’s top flight, 22 percent of games have been drawn, with 36 percent settled by a single goal. That’s an average of 220 matches per year where a single goal would have affected the final outcome, so if there are going to be significantly more penalties, it will undoubtedly make a difference.
Total Goals Markets
That isn’t just true of predicting results either. Consider the total goals market; in the Premier League last season, the split between matches which had under or over 2.5 goals was 176 to 204. With 99 matches – 26 percent of the total – seeing exactly two, might we see a greater swing towards games which feature at least three goals?
Matches involving the Big Six
What will displease fans of some of the Premier League’s smaller teams is that there may be a swing towards the established big six clubs getting more penalties.
Since August 2015, Crystal Palace have won the most penalties, with 33, and the Eagles are followed by the Foxes, as Leicester had 30. Manchester City have won 29, but they are the only side from the ‘big six’ in the top five teams for most penalties won over the past four seasons.
However, the top six sides have had the most touches in opposition penalty boxes, which suggests they should’ve potentially had more spot kicks than other sides, not fewer.
Of the 13 teams who have been ever-present in the top flight over the last four years, none of the big clubs are in the top five for fewest penalty box touches per penalty, with City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal the bottom four in the rankings.
It seems reasonable to assume that the teams that spend the most time in the box might start to win more penalties, as fouls that were once unpunished may not be so fortunate following a video review.
At this point it’s impossible to say exactly how much difference VAR will make when it is introduced to the Premier League, particularly when combined with the new handball law, there will surely be an impact upon the outcome your future soccer bets.
Remember to factor this in when making your new season predictions over at our sportsbook; it may be the difference between a winning and losing bet.