VAR Review: How Man United were awarded and escaped a penalty

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.

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In this week’s VAR Review: How Manchester United were awarded a penalty and escaped conceding another at AFC Bournemouth, plus all the key incidents from across the other matches.


Possible penalty overturn: Foul by Kambwala on Christie

What happened: Ryan Christie was brought down by Man United defender Willy Kambwala on the edge of the area five minutes into second-half stoppage time. Referee Tony Harrington pointed to the penalty spot with the VAR, Jarred Gillett, checking the foul itself and where it took place.

VAR decision: Penalty cancelled, changed to a free kick just outside the area.

VAR review: “I believe completely it was a penalty,” Bournemouth boss Andoni Iraola said after the game. “Against Newcastle the penalty against us, the contact started outside the box.

“But [today] the first frame was put so the first contact was on the edge of the box, but the contact continues one, two metres inside and is stopping the player.”

This mixes up the law and it only applies to holding, not to a tackle or block. The example Iraola used from their game against Newcastle United involved Adam Smith holding onto the shirt of Fabian Schär.

Harrington gave the penalty against Kambwala for a trip, and the replays did show this contact was outside the area. There was a subsequent block, but even if the referee had given the spot kick for this, the contact for the foul was first made just outside the box.

Iraola added: “The VAR intervenes in something that should be clear and obvious.”

Determining that the trip was outside the area is a factual review for the VAR. It isn’t covered by “clear and obvious,” which is when the referee has to visit the monitor to change a subjective decision.

It’s a fair argument that in close situations such as this it could be better if the referee makes the final call, though the VAR would provide the exact same evidence.

Possible penalty overturn: Handball by Smith

What happened: Man United were awarded a penalty in the 63rd minute after a shot from Kobbie Mainoo was blocked by Christie and the ball ricocheted up on to the arm of Bournemouth defender Adam Smith. Referee Harrington quickly pointed to the spot, but should it have been overturned?

VAR decision: Penalty stands, scored by Bruno Fernandes.

VAR review: It’s harsh, and the kind of handball which is highly unlikely to be given through a VAR intervention — yet at the same time the referee’s on-field call isn’t going to get overturned. It’s a classic VAR event where many fans will feel there’s been injustice, but protocol means the referee’s decision is justified.

If Harrington says he has given the spot kick because he’s seen Smith move his arm towards the ball then there’s nowhere for the VAR to go. There was a definite but small movement of Smith’s arm, even if it was just an instinctive reaction to Marcus Rashford being behind him, and that trumps all exemptions — including the player’s arm being close to his body.

The handball law is applied more leniently in the Premier League than on the continent, and while there are fewer penalties as harsh as this, subjectivity does mean that inconsistency of decisions is more likely.

Three handball penalties have gone down as VAR errors this season — two awarded in Luton vs. Sheffield United, and one not given against Arsenal‘s Martin Ødegaard at Liverpool.

Liverpool had a penalty claim in the 67th minute of their 1-0 home defeat to Crystal Palace, with Andrew Robertson hitting the ball into Nathaniel Clyne. However, the defender had his arms tucked into his body, and the ball would otherwise have hit his chest. There would have needed to be a deliberate movement for this to be a penalty.

Possible foul: Kambwala on Solanke in the buildup to Fernandes goal

What happened: Bruno Fernandes equalised in the 31st minute after Kambwala tried to challenge Dominic Solanke, who went to ground, and Man United broke upfield to score.

VAR decision: Goal stands.

VAR review: There was a case for foul by Kambwala on the Bournemouth striker, but it came a long way back in the play before Fernandes scored.

The goal came 17 seconds later, with Man United making seven passes and Bournemouth making two attempted interceptions.


Possible penalty: Estupiñán challenge on Odobert

What happened: Wilson Odobert broke into the area in the seventh minute and went down under a challenge from Pervis Estupiñán. Referee Simon Hooper wasn’t interested in a penalty as Odobert protested. It was checked by the VAR, Robert Jones (watch here).

VAR decision: No penalty.

VAR review: Burnley have been on the wrong end of a series of VAR decisions of late, and it’s possible this could go down as another — though may well fall on the wrong side of “clear and obvious.”

Estupiñán’s challenge is clumsy but is it is largely shoulder to shoulder with the ball within playing distance? That’s probably enough for the VAR to determine that this decision should stay on-field with the high bar. There’s similarities to Ollie Watkins’ penalty claim against Fulham earlier this season, which was ruled to be a correct decision by the Premier League’s Independent Key Match Incidents Panel.

There’s no doubt that this stays as a penalty if given by Hooper, and Estupiñán is fortunate to get away with it as he places his left leg across the Burnley forward.

Perhaps Estupiñán got the slightest touch on the ball with his left foot, though that isn’t clear and that wouldn’t rule out a possible penalty with such a challenge.


Possible disallowed goal: Collins challenge on McBurnie

What happened: Brentford doubled their lead in the 68th minute when Mikkel Damsgaard scored following a corner route. However, Oliver McBurnie appealled for a foul by Nathan Collins as the ball came across and it was checked by the VAR, David Coote.

VAR decision: Goal disallowed.

VAR review: It’s an intervention which perhaps appears harsh on first view, but the replays show that Collins does place his right left in front of McBurnie, who was making a move to close down Damsgaard and leaves the Brentford player with a free shot.

If Collins had performed the kind of standard blocking action we see from attackers on most corners he would have got away with it, but it’s bound to raise questions of when the VAR should be getting involved in these kinds of situations.


Possible foul: Gibbs-White on Semedo

What happened: Morgan Gibbs-White equalised for Nottingham Forest in first-half stoppage time with a header following a corner from Giovanni Reyna. However, was there a push in the buildup from the goal scorer?

VAR decision: Goal stands.

VAR review: While Gibbs-White had at least one arm on the back of Nélson Semedo as the corner was delivered, it doesn’t seem to be enough to lead to a VAR intervention. There’s been much heavier contact made by an attacker on a defender and the decision has remained on-field.


Possible red card: Pereira challenge on Paquetá

What happened: Andreas Pereira slid in to challenge Lucas Paquetá in the 61st minute and caught the West Ham United player with a raised foot. Referee Stuart Attwell chose to show a yellow card to the Fulham midfielder.

VAR decision: No red card.

VAR review: Pereira is fortunate because the height of the challenge meant Attwell could have shown a red card.

However, the lack of force in the contact on Paquetá means a yellow card is always likely to be seen as an acceptable on-field decision by the VAR, Darren England — in the hub for the first time since his error to not allow Luis Díaz‘s goal for Liverpool at Tottenham Hotspur over six months ago.

Possible penalty: Paquetá challenge on Lukic

What happened: Paquetá was booked in the fifth minute of added time for a rash and late challenge on Sasa Lukic. The VAR checked for a possible red card.

VAR decision: No red card.

VAR review: There are some similarities in the dismissal of Aston Villa‘s John McGinn against Tottenham, though McGinn ran in from some distance to take out Destiny Udogie and it’s the force that creates which makes the difference.

Paquetá had no interest in the ball and kicked an opponent to the floor; a yellow card is supportable but another referee might have produced a red.


Possible offside: Guimarães on Schär goal

What happened: Fabian Schär wrapped up the victory for Newcastle in the 87th minute when he headed home a corner from Anthony Gordon. But was there a teammate offside in front of the goalkeeper? The VAR, Stuart Attwell, checked the goal. (watch here)

VAR decision: Goal stands.

VAR review: Wolves’ disallowed goal against West Ham United last week caused a lot of controversy, though the Independent Panel unanimously supported the decision.

Schär’s goal provides a great example of how an attacking player’s proximity to a goalkeeper is crucial.

Bruno Guimarães was in an offside position in the line of vision of Tottenham Hotspur‘s Guglielmo Vicario — yet it’s the perceived impact which determines if there’s an offence.

The key difference is the distance between Guimarães and the keeper — the greater it is the less chance there is that the opponent can be affected.

Wolves’ Tawanda Chirewa was virtually stood on top of Lukasz Fabianski, making that an easy offside decision. There’s far more subjectivity involved in Guimarães’ position.

Yet it’s easy to find similar situations with opposite outcomes — which is always going to be a frustration for supporters.

Liverpool had a Harvey Elliott goal disallowed at Burnley in December due to Mohamed Salah offside in front of goalkeeper James Trafford. Salah’s position isn’t much different to Guimarães, yet it was a low shot which mean a greater chance of impact.

But in September, a Dominik Szoboszlai goal against Aston Villa was allowed to stand even though Salah was again in the view of keeper Emiliano Martínez. On that occasion, the reasoning was that the shot came from such a distance that there was enough time to react.

Unless you give offside against any player in a goalkeeper’s line of vision, there’s always going to be perceived inconsistencies in assessing impact.


Possible penalty: Challenge by Carlos on Jesus

What happened: Gabriel Jesus collected the ball in the 48th minute and went to ground under a challenge from Diego Carlos. The striker looked around to David Coote asking for a penalty, but the referee played on.

VAR decision: No penalty.

VAR review: Both Jesus and Carlos arrive at the ball at around the same time, with no obvious challenge. In fact, it was the left foot of Jesus which appeared to go into the Aston Villa defender.


Possible penalty overturn: Onyedinma challenge on Doku

What happened: Jérémy Doku ran into the penalty area in the 75th minute, and went to ground from a tackle by Fred Onyedinma. Referee John Brooks immediately pointed to the spot.

VAR decision: Penalty stands, scored by Erling Haaland.

VAR review: One of the clearest penalties you’re likely to see, with Onyedinma placing his right foot across the path of Doku as he tried to run past him.

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