Free Friday: “If It’s Good Enough For Them…”, VAR and Common Sense

Free Friday: “If It’s Good Enough For Them…”, VAR and Common Sense
January 3, 2020 Daniel Rhodes
In Free, Free Friday


Best posts of the week, as chosen by Chris Rowland and Daniel Rhodes:

1 – Madchenkliop’s summary of yesterday’s win over Wolves:

This was  a game where you could see the players pushing themselves through the pain barrier to dig out one final performance before a proper rest – or at least if you count one extra day as a rest before Sheffield. I thought the story of the match, as told by the above stats and that second half was one where you could visibly see them coming down from the highs of being World Champions and parading their dominance at the home of the pretenders to the throne. In many ways I thought it was that second half performance that showed the real reason this is such a brilliant team of winners. The automatic way Van Dijk shook off his mistake and geed himself up immediately for the ensuing corner. Don’t look back. It might as well be the team motto. No one is phased by mistakes or have any expectations of perfection, whether it’s a striker missing an open goal or a defender misjudging a tackle the expectation of the whole team is on concentration on what they can contribute in the next moment. They’ve all totally bought into that ethos, to the point that you can almost see any introspective moment or frown on a player’s face, being swallowed up by the collective decree – ‘thou  shalt not dwell.’

This mentality has become so ubiquitous that not even the commentators can be arsed to try and spin false narratives about, for instance, Salah’s frustrations with his erratic form, or this or that player being ‘anonymous’, etc.

I thought it was great to see the extra enthusiasm Klopp showed when he was thanking Origi and Keita at the end of the match. The fact that he waits a little longer than some other managers to introduce fresh legs, is a clear indication, imo, of the extraordinary store JK puts on players being concentrated and up to speed with the pace of the game and is consequently a bit mistrustful of substitutions. He is paranoid about what happens when a newly introduced player might take an extra moment to summon the intensity and the rigour with which Krawietz puts them through the tactical expectations for the last minutes is the essence of attention to detail.  It was really noticeable how Keita was on it like a ferret up a trouser leg when he came on. A big improvement since last year. Origi has also become a specialist technician at directing the play into the top left corner.

Anyway, we got through it and the way this team plays, I’m not sure it was as risky as perhaps it appeared. It’s the same thing with their disallowed goal, (which personally, I would have allowed); if it had stood we would have employed a different strategy in the second half in which we may well have busted a gut to score a second goal. This team always plays to the in game situation, because, like Jeff says, they are primarily focused on winning. They know how to win and I reckon the top quality needed to achieve that is concentration.

2 –  Neil Burke on VAR:

A lot of the complaint about VAR (not just yesterday) is that it curtails the celebration of a goal and is ripping the soul of the game away; players and fans don’t know if they can celebrate or not for fear of VAR interrupting the explosion of joy. Essentially, so the argument goes, VAR is ruining the game because it stops people celebrating a goal. Coady speaks well, he seems like a good bloke and he received a lot of sympathy from the various TV panels, but his argument last night seemed to be that VAR is ruining the game, even though someone told him that the decisions were right… Which is a complete nonsense to me – is he saying that because they celebrated their goal and then felt deflated and angry because it was disallowed and nothing was explained to them, that the goal should have just stood?

What if we similarly applied the above to Mane’s goal yesterday? Surely the same complaint should be levelled at Anthony Taylor for blowing his whistle? His blowing of the whistle for what he perceived to be handball by Lallana ruined Liverpool’s celebration of a perfectly sound goal. So for “VAR ruins the joy at football”, you can also read “incompetent referee ruins the joy of football”. Why is one bad, but the other acceptable?

I’m not entirely sure why he even blows his whistle for Mane’s goal – like with the later “offside goal”, if he doesn’t blow his whistle, VAR likely tells the ref to pause the kick-off and reviews the incident anyway. So if it was handball, the ref would then be told there was a handball infringement and a free-kick would be awarded. By blowing for an infringement, he ignites Wolves’ (fans, players, coaching staff) sense of injustice when VAR later rules it to have been ok. So as well as incompetence, it’s poor game management. Whilst coaching staff shouldn’t overreact, it’s Taylor’s poor game management that then leads to Santo being booked and potentially his own sense of wanting to balance decisions out in the game.

Then we get to the offside goal. The fact is that there was an offside in the build-up to the goal. The outside of an attacker’s foot (not his armpit, hip or nipple) was in an offside position as he was passed the ball. VAR reviewed it and alerted the referee to the offside. So what exactly is the problem? Are we saying that because it seems a bit harsh on poor little Wolves (and others this weekend), we need to rip up the rule book?

I get that the spirit of the introduction of the offside law was to prevent goal-hanging. I also get that the technology used to assess offsides may not be as 100% accurate as potentially required and needs improvement. But, marginal or not, the Wolves player was offside. So whilst it’s arguably harsh on Wolves and you could say they were unlucky in that incident, I don’t understand why there’s so much uproar about another correct decision. Wolves aren’t the only ones to have experienced such a situation this season, we have experienced it too and just because you could say Wolves were unlucky in that particular incident, that doesn’t mean that Liverpool were lucky.

If it’s the margin for offside that’s the problem, then it’s the law that needs adjustment. But what is the margin for offside that people would accept? 5mm? 1cm? 30cm/1foot? How much are people willing to accept as a margin for error? Say, for example, it is agreed that a player being 1cm offside is ok; how can you justify 1.1cm not being ok? It could go on and on and on. Does that lead to further inconsistency whereby one referee will allow a couple of millimetres over the margin for error, but another won’t? After all, we’re only talking about a couple of millimetres, right?

It’s kind of like the difference between a speed camera and a policeman with a hand-held speed gun; a bobby might let you off for doing 31mph in a 30mph zone, but a camera is going to flash you. Whilst it might be frustrating that you were “only” doing 1mph over the limit, the fact is that you were over the limit and it’s your own fault, especially as drivers get plenty of warning of where cameras are.

Liverpool’s “goal” at City last season – something like 1mm of the ball remained over-hanging the goal line before it was cleared and as a result the goal wasn’t given. That’s a potentially title-deciding goal. Should the goal have just been given because in the spirit of the laws of the game, the ball was practically “over” the line? It wasn’t a little bit over the line, it wasn’t half way over the line, it was probably more than 99% over. So why should 1mm prevent a goal?

Whilst I disagree with Souness’s suggestion anyway (along the lines of “if there’s a part of a player still in an onside position, then it should be onside”), it doesn’t solve anything as there still needs to be a line drawn and there will still be marginal calls – are you willing to accept 1mm of an attackers trailing boot being parallel with 1mm of a defenders shoulder as onside? Does a further 1mm make it offside?

VAR was introduced, generally, to ensure correct decisions were being made. Or to put it another way, VAR was introduced because of the value of the modern game at the top level and there being too many boom or bust mistakes being made by referees, potentially affecting trophy wins and/or relegation. Without VAR yesterday, Liverpool probably go in at half-time 1-0 down, Liverpool fans at home are furious that a perfectly good goal by Mane was disallowed by an incompetent referee, the Liverpool fans at the stadium are non-the-wiser as to why it was disallowed and the various panels in the various studios are saying that the goal should have stood and we need television replays.

I’d be happy to keep offsides as a black and white issue, using VAR to the best of its (likely increasing) ability to assess when a ball was probably played and where a player was probably positioned, whether it’s marginal or not. The only thing I would change is that it should be feet that are used for the purpose of assessing an offside – so that if an attacker is about to sprint forward and his head is past a defender (in an offside position), but his feet are the other side of the defender (onside), then that’s fine.

There’s also this argument that the fans in the stadium don’t know what’s going on when VAR intervenes – so, with the offside, Coady was arguing that the players, the fans and seemingly the referee didn’t know who was offside or by how far he was offside. I get that that is frustrating, but if a referee disallows a goal like Taylor did with Mane’s yesterday, the fans in the stadium and most of the players still wouldn’t know why it was disallowed and they would still feel a sense of injustice! So, again, why is one method of decision making deemed to be bad for making a correct decision, but the other is acceptable even though it’s wrong?

I find the media narrative/debate about the whole thing to be ridiculous and it feeds the perception that 1) VAR is ruining the game, 2) Liverpool are again lucky beneficiaries of VAR (5Live this morning were still reporting that Liverpool were lucky to have a goal allowed to stand by VAR that the referee had disallowed for handball), 3) Wolves deserved something out of the game and, 4) the offside law needs to be drastically updated to allow for more goals to be allowed (I don’t understand the seeming desperation in some quarters for seeing more goals in football and why that would be considered a good thing, but that’s a different debate). I’ve seen very-little-to-no positive comment that VAR did its job correctly, that the refereeing in the Liverpool game was generally poor at best, or that Wolves didn’t score any legitimate goals and so didn’t do anything to deserve any points.

3 –  El Indio’s reflections post-Wolves:

A few thoughts as I took the early morning train to return back to London.

a) Before the match, the Anfield digital display previewed the rules of VAR. It clearly outlined that goals, offsides, red card, and mistaken identity will only be checked.

However within the game Anthony Taylor seemed so sure of the handball decision that he just disallowed the goal once Mané had netted. I swear to Fowler only when Henderson, and Lallana surround him did the VAR screen flash up a bit later about checking for possible handball.

I’m not sure who was the VAR ref (it was Simon Hooper – Ed) but he upheld the rules that were supposed to be applied. The same goes for the goal that Wolves scored. Although once it was scored, I went to the restroom guessing that time was up. Only when I got out that there was a huge roar about the reversed decision. It really lifted the mood.

b) Lallana put in massive shift similar to the ones of 16-17 season. Even after tiring his last contribution before being subbed out happened to be a block which touched the Wolves player, and went for a goal kick. That last contribution itself was a standing ovation. Some of the moves Liverpool completed that failed to result in a clear cut chance were simply amazing. I lost the number of times when Salah/Mané/Lallana/Henderson did something really good with simplicity.

But there were mistakes made including Van Dijk’s mistake, when he waited too long on the ball, which drew a nervous laugh around me when the ball was finally out of play. Our defence, and Salah need a break. And I’m sure there will be a couple of changes for the next few games. It is simply mind-boggling that we can’t allow players more than two days rest to just cram fixtures because it has happened for a long time. It is like taking the game to the 1940’s. All players need a break, and the Premier League needs to change this stupid behaviour otherwise the match day goers, and the millions of others watching it around the globe will simply hate the festive football – making it more miserable rather than be festive/happy.

c) Henderson is really the real deal. He literally shouted his way into the final minutes to keep the ship together. Trent, Mo, and rest of players were barked into action. Sometimes you don’t need Klopp when you’ve Henderson on the pitch. Any online/studio sofa chair pundit should be made to watch the intensity, and authority he brings to the side.

d) Our warm-ups are pretty interesting. For keepers there is distribution, shooting, and passing the ball. For the first team it is a bit of orientation with the ball, then warm-up by Kornmayer, followed by a very peculiar 4 a side with central defenders acting as pivots at the opposite end for distribution, and then followed by short sprints. All this while Klopp is staring at both training sessions from the middle of the pitch. The bench did something similar but of lesser intensity.

e) The refereeing is a scandal. I mentioned earlier that the Anfield crowd went berserk for certain decisions, and even though I was in the upper tier of the main stand I could still see the play happening on the pitch, and errors from the referee. This isn’t the first time when a Liverpool player has been shoved into the crowd, and the opposition player got away with it because of referee. It has happened to Firmino, and it has happened now to Divock. This needs to be corrected or else some nut case might assault the referee one day to get the point across. It didn’t feel like a festive 1-0 win. And even I made the mistake of cussing many times while forgetting there were a bunch of kids in the next row. It also doesn’t help when many would influence a wrong sort of behaviour to the children. The referee should not be the talking about the match. The technology should not be the talking point about the match. It should be seamless directive that should focus on the play.

And yet every fool in the media loves a controversy.

And if some jackass tells you that Liverpool are lucky to win with VAR, tell these accusers we lost the league by a millimetre, and a red card tackle that wasn’t given. At the Etihad in 2013-14 we lost another game when Sterling was given offside when he was miles onside.

Screw the slip narrative, that title was lost again at Etihad. I don’t give a flying fuck what they think about VAR because when Karius made those mistakes in Kyiv all of these non-sympathetic pricks were busy laughing at us. It was heartless, cruel, and downright ugly. I wouldn’t give two shits if their club got relegated because all we can do is help each other within this community, and support our club. They’ve laughed enough about us. The time for it to stop has come.

4 – Hesbighesred reflects on the victory vs Sheffield United:

Love it. Wilder talking about us with immense respect and pointing to our immense workrate and mentality as a model for any team: “If it’s good enough for them…”

Would also say that it was really refreshing to play, in Utd, a team that were very hard, that pushed that beyond the line sometimes – but who weren’t at all snide. Two mirror teams in that respect – no rolling around, no card waving, no ref-baiting. Just get up and get on with the job. It made for a real pleasure of a match to watch.

5 – David looking ahead to the cup match vs Everton:

Really impressive performance again!! Just can’t believe we’ve now won 29 out of the last 30 league matches – that’s out of this world! I have to keep pinching myself.

I love Mane!! He was so quick to get back up to knock it in after his initial shot was saved; not many strikers would have been able to react like that.

At least we (hopefully) won’t hear too much more about how lucky we’ve been with injuries this season compared to Citeh. Post-match Klopp drilled it home by saying that with Keita out we now only have 14 “adult” players fit, including Minamino!

Very interested to see what he does against Everton. He implied he would bring a lot of freshness in and we know he doesn’t take the FA Cup too seriously. Anyone else think he’ll go for something like:


Williams – Sepp – Phillips – Milner


Jones – Elliot – Minamino

Origi – Brewster (if fit)

Struggling to see who else could play. I doubt he’ll play any of our other “adults” ahead of such an important stretch of fixtures; the risk of injury is too high after a few closely-spaced intense matches. We just can’t afford to lose another first XI player, even if we may have to give up some local bragging rights.

Articles published since last Friday, with excerpts:

Monday December 30th:

Post-Match Analysis: Liverpool 1 – 0 Wolvesby Daniel Rhodes.

Unfortunately, there’s no way around going a bit Match of the Day here, with the phrase: It was a game of two halves. Now my high-level Shearernalysis is over, what do the stats say? In the first half, it was all Liverpool who attempted eight shots to Wolves’ one. And that one shot was in injury time by Neves, from 30 yards out, and was blocked. The xG was similar, with Understat having the ‘score’ 1.38 – 0.06 after 45 minutes. Complete control.

My Day at the Match – Wolves (H), Dec. 29th 2019by Chris Rowland.

Jürgen’s Bierhaus, formerly the Tom Hall Inn, is a shrine to Liverpool FC, in its decor, as you may have deduced, its flags inside and out, and its multi-screens which always show Liverpool’s games. The pizza menu has items named after Liverpool legends of the past. The Owen Pizza is the dullest, just the basic cheese, tomato and basil, though we amuse ourselves with the thought of Owen himself asking for the basil to be taken off as that would make it a bit too interesting! There’s also a hot and spicy Suarez pizza, and I suggest it would be a good idea for the kitchen to have its own set of dentures and take a chunk out of each Suarez pizza to be served! The 9 of us meet – four of the usual contingent are missing for various reasons – and discuss matters football and other. I observe that it’s an interesting business decision to turn your bar into a place that deters 50% of your potential customers in a city.

“20%”, they correct me! 🙂

What the VARk Happened to Common Sense?by Russel Lunt. *FREE ARTICLE*

There appear to be two primary areas where VAR fuels debate rather than eliminates it: handball and offside. In truth, there cannot be two areas of the rules that are more clear-cut in terms of definition, except perhaps for which side has possession at the start of each half or after a goal is scored. Even more bizarre is that supposed experts simply cannot get their heads around these rules either. The pundits create so much noise that it is hard to hear the truth, and the weak-willed do not put much stock in the truth anyway.

Tuesday December 31st:

19/20 Premier League Preview | Matchweek 21 | Sheffield Utd | Anfieldby Gary Fulcher.

Despite losing 0-2 at Manchester City on Sunday, Sheffield Utd are in 8th place, just two points behind Manchester Utd in 5th, and are well placed to fight it out for a place in the top six over the second half of the season.

Chris Wilder’s side have proven to be a tough nut to crack away from home, with their defeat at the Etihad the first time they have failed to pick up points on their travels this season. Their one defeat is only bettered by Liverpool’s zero and their total of nine goals conceded away from home is the 2nd best in the top flight behind Liverpool’s tally of five. The Blades have also drawn the most games with five, including draws at Wolves, Spurs and Chelsea, so expect another tight affair at Anfield under the floodlights.

Wednesday January 1st:

What Data Viz Tells Us About Liverpool’s Progress Under Klopp, by Andrew Beasley *FREE ARTICLE*

Since last we met, just one result was deemed as unmerited, if you assume an expected goal difference of greater than 0.5 warrants a win: Liverpool’s 3-1 victory over Manchester City. Your heart bleeds, doesn’t it? How many times have the Reds got a result their performance didn’t deserve against City in the last two seasons at Anfield, Pep? Twice, you say? Twice? Interesting.

The total for the season is now 63 points in the two main competitions, from performances that were worthy of 57. From 23 fixtures, three draws on the xG stats became wins in reality, we’re not talking daylight robbery here. But were the Reds given a boost by the officials at Stockley Park?