Tottenham Vs Chelsea: Does the use of VAR enhance or restrict football?

Tottenham hosted Chelsea in the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final last night. The game itself wasn’t short of excitement and drama leaving us with numerous areas of discussion. Aside from any controversy, the game itself was an entertaining one with Spurs managing to hold out for a 1-0 advantage going to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea controlled much of the match but were unable to break down a solid Tottenham defence meaning they’ll be forced to really push for goals in the home leg.

One of the key pieces of action within the game came when Harry Kane was awarded a penalty, which he scored, following a VAR investigation. The striker was played in behind the Chelsea defence and easily beat Arrizabalaga to the ball only for the keeper to give away a fairly blatant penalty. The entire event caused a lot of confusion for a number of reasons. Firstly, the linesman flagged quite late, presumably for offside, when Kane was put through. Chelsea manager Sarri, in particular, seemed to believe this affected his defenders causing them to stop despite play continuing. The match pundits also discussed how this may have affected Kepa and caused him to act in a rash manner thinking it wouldn’t matter believing the offside had already been given. We can never be conclusively sure if the players were affected by the flag but ultimately it’s more of a mistake from the Chelsea players than anything else. If we take VAR out the equation, the referee is still the person who makes the final decision. Players have to learn to continue, even if the linesman does flag, until the whistle is blown.

Sarri’s frustration was compounded by his belief that Kane was in fact offside. This somewhat came as a surprise for spectators who had seen images which quite clearly showed Kane was onside. However, the image Sarri and his staff saw on their monitor was from a different angle which did make Kane look like he was in an offside position. Although most people eventually agreed that VAR had led to the correct decision being made, it didn’t do much to reduce controversy, which is its ultimate aim. Offside decisions are arguably the most difficult to make and when there is a tight call, it’s no good using multiple camera angles, some of which making the player look like he’s onside and some that make him look off. Now, some form of technology which allows a camera to always stay in line with the last defender probably isn’t the easiest thing to install. Yet, surely placing a camera every metre or so along the length of the pitch wouldn’t be impossible. It’s not as if there is a shortage of funding in football either so it’s hard to believe that money would be an issue when it comes to this sort of technology. They could then use whichever camera is closest to being in line with the last defender to avoid the controversy of different angles like what we saw in yesterday’s match.

Of course, the primary concern with VAR is that it needs to consistently produce the correct outcome, or the outcome that most people believe to be correct. Decisions like penalties are always going to be debatable and there will always be some people who disagree with the refs decision. This is never going to change so it’s just a matter of using VAR to provide the ref with the greatest chance to make the correct decision as possible. However, some people have expressed some other secondary problems with this new technology. The topic of match timing is more prominent now than it has ever been before with growing concerns about how much time is wasted without any football actually being played. Unlike some other sports, such as basketball, the clock constantly runs meaning that the 45 minutes per half is almost never fully played despite the use of added time. Time can be wasted from anything like the ball being out of play for a throw in to a player being down injured.

At this current moment in time, the use of VAR is only adding to this issue so it’s important to come to some sort of resolution. More often than not, a VAR decision is a very lengthy process and whilst a minute or two may not seem long, last night’s match pundits pointed out that the decision was so obvious after seeing VAR images that it could have been made in a matter of seconds. Yes, referees will be keen to take their time and make the right call but spectators have paid to watch football, not watch the officials think about a decision that might not even have taken half the time without the use of VAR. Officials either have to be trained to use VAR with a certain degree of urgency or it just has to be accepted that these decisions are going to take a fairly long time, in which case the clock should be stopped until play resumes. If this did happen, it would probably be logical to just stop the clock whenever the ball isn’t in play and potentially shorten the halves if there were fears the game would go on for too long with all the constant stoppages. Regardless of what happens, too much time is currently being wasted so something has to change.

This probably seems like a very negative view on the use of VAR, that certainly isn’t meant to be the case. This technology is still in its very early stages and, despite the odd case, it has normally provided the correct outcome when it’s been used. It simply needs to be polished so that it becomes a truly reliable system, one that avoids certain issues like the ones we’ve discussed and saw in yesterday’s semi-final. It will continue to be improved and should conclusively enhance our beautiful game.

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