VAR changes: how it will affect Premier League, changes to offside and penalty rulings

Changes to how VAR is implemented for the 2021/22 season have been announced

A general view inside the stadium of the LED Screen indicating that the goal scored by Kai Havertz of Chelsea (not pictured) is being reviewed by VAR for a potential handball during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Everton at Stamford Bridge on March 08, 2021 in London, England.

The Premier League will look to clamp down on soft penalties in the season ahead, while attackers are set to benefit from the scrapping of so-called ‘toenail’ offsides.

Referees’ chief Mike Riley says the bar for awarding fouls and spot-kicks for lower-body contact will be raised, following feedback from players, coaches and chief executives gathered in a March survey.

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At a glance: 5 key takeaways

Referee Craig Pawson watches an incident on the VAR screen after giving a penalty which he later rescinds during the match between West Bromwich Albion and Manchester United.

- On-field officials and VARs will be told to establish clear contact, whether it has a consequence and whether an attacking player has tried to use that contact to win a penalty.

- Attackers who initiate or exaggerate contact will not be rewarded

- The assessment of marginal offsides will also change next season

- One-pixel lines will still be used in the working-out process, but this will no longer be broadcast.

The Premier League's opening fixtures

- The final, thicker broadcast lines will be used, and when these thicker lines drawn for the attacker and defender overlap, the attacker will be deemed onside.

What has been said?

“It’s not sufficient just to say ‘yes, there was contact’,” Riley, the general manager of Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) said.

“Contact on its own is only part of what referees should look for. If you’ve got clear contact that has a consequence, then that’s what you have got to penalise.”

On the tweaks to the offside assessments, Riley said: “Effectively what we give back to the game is 20 goals that would have been disallowed last season by using quite forensic scrutiny,” he said.

“So it’s the toenails, the noses being given offside. They might have been given offside last season, next season they won’t be.”

Background

Video assistant referees (VAR) were introduced in the Premier League in 2019 to review "clear and obvious errors" in four game-changing incidents: goals, penalties, straight red cards and mistaken identity.

However, changes were made last summer including encouraging referees to use pitchside monitors more, assistant referees being told to keep their flags down on tight offside decisions, and monitoring goalkeepers to make sure they stayed on their lines during penalties.

VAR has still proved to be hugely controversial with fans feeling the game was disrupted, that the right decisions still weren’t always being made, and that goals were being ruled out for the slightest margin, or penalties were harshly awarded.

There were 125 penalties given last season, 92 in 2019-20, 103 in 2018-19 and 80 in 2017-18.

What happens next?

It is understood the Premier League is expecting there could be the possibility to trial semi-automated offside technology in the 2022-23 season. FIFA president Gianni Infantino has already expressed his hope that the technology can be used at the 2022 World Cup midway through that season.

The technology provides a response in four to five seconds, compared to the average human check in the Premier League of 34 seconds.

Fan feedback was also sought by the Premier League, with many supporters disenchanted with aspects of VAR.

It is understood the league is considering a number of options to make the VAR process more transparent, ranging from video explainers on the league’s social media channels to a PGMOL representative appearing on programmes such as Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football.

The light-touch approach to VAR seen at the Euros drew widespread praise, but it is expected there will be a higher level of intervention than was seen in the summer tournament.