• Dan Tracey

The VAR Stars Are Aligning

With the first international break of this new Premier League season upon us, it is the perfect opportunity in which to take stock of referee activity thus far and with an ever expanding list of data sets, we are well placed to carry out such a task.

While in this article, we are going to look at the first 38 games of the campaign (10% of all scheduled matches) and see just how prominent VAR has been in the first four weeks of the Premier League’s 2020/21 edition.

Armed with 10% worth of the completed fixture list, we can begin to get an idea regarding the patterns of referee behaviour and their relationship with VAR, a relationship that has been called upon 35 times to date.

This means, we have witnessed an average of 0.92 VAR calls per Premier League game and this figure has dropped from the 1.0 that was recorded by the end of week three - a decrease that can be part explained by a change in law interpretation.

With the furore that followed the trio of controversial penalty decisions in week three, there was a softening of stance from the PGMOL and one that advised slightly more leniency regarding handball awards in the box.

Now whether this change in application has been the direct driver for the downturn in average VAR calls can be argued and the alternative viewpoint would suggest that a week is too early to make such a proclamation.

However, the very early signs at least look positive, as the most recent 10 Premier League fixtures only saw a total of seven VAR calls across the weekend and in a week where there was an abundance of goals on show, referee controversy was placed on the back burner.

In fairness any conclusions that we try and make from data before week seven of the season, are always going to have an element of conjecture to them, if only because the law of small numbers must be applied when using percentages at such an early stage.

Something that needs to be highlighted when looking at where the 35 individual calls have come from and which referees have relied on technology, as they look to make key decisions throughout the game.

To date, 15 referees have asked VAR for a second look and collectively, 13 decisions have subsequently been overturned, which means the current alignment between official and technology is 62.86%.

This equates to just under two thirds of all the initial VAR calls, being backed up by those offering an additional set of eyes and although we were unlikely to reach the utopia where the two elements run in perfect synchronicity, this is a pleasing return all the same.

Because if every six out of ten decisions are supported by those in Stockley Park, it suggests a level of confidence in the current officialdom and although the role that VAR plays within the Premier League is far from perfect, there is a sense that it getting there slowly.

On the flipside, it also means that 37.14% of the 35 calls in question have been overturned and although that percentage figure might be alarming to some, one must remember the early point of this data capture.

If that was still in play by the end of week ten, this would be rather distressing to some and the hope, if not the expectation, is that this lack of correlation is driven down by more and more football being played throughout the next seven months.

In terms of decisions being overturned, it might be fair to suggest that David Coote needs some assistance of his own and with all three of his contentious calls being turned over, this is not a trend he will want to continue throughout the season.

By taking the 13 decisions that have been overturned, we now know that Coote himself has played a part in 23% of them and hot on his heels are the pair of Chris Kavanagh and Kevin Friend, who have seen VAR pull rank on two occasions each.

While Friend himself has been the joint busiest referee of all when it comes to technology, as he has gone digital five times already – an average of 2.5 per game and this also means he has just a 60% alignment rate, slightly less than the league average.

It is also five for colleague Michael Oliver and it should also be said that his performance has been five star to date, as everything that has been referred to the additional referee, has come back with a glowing seal of approval.

Therefore, if Mr. Oliver can set the standard for all to follow, the correlation between referee and technology would have a far greater rate of positivity. Then again, what would this game be without controversy and a focus on the men who make the most important decisions of all.

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