Pep Guardiola declared himself “a big fan of VAR” despite the review system coming under the spotlight again in Manchester City’s 3-2 Champions League win over Schalke.
Late goals from Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling earned City a first-leg advantage in their last-16 tie, with Schalke – who had gone behind to Sergio Aguero’s opener – having led 2-1 at half-time in Germany thanks to a pair of Nabil Bentaleb penalties.
The first of those was awarded for a handball against Nicolas Otamendi after referee Carlos del Cerro Grande had initially given a corner when Daniel Caligiuri’s shot crashed into the defender’s arm on Wednesday.
Due to a faulty pitch-side monitor, the official was unable to review the incident again and it took almost three minutes of confusion and deliberation for the penalty to be awarded, and a further two minutes passed before Bentaleb dispatched the spot-kick.
Schalke won another penalty when Fernandinho fouled Salif Sane and Otamendi, booked for his earlier handball, was later dismissed for a second caution, yet Guardiola insisted critics of VAR needed to be realistic.
Speaking about the system, being used in the Champions League knockout phases for the first time this season, Guardiola said at a news conference: “It’s a penalty [for handball against Otamendi], I’m a big fan of VAR.
“It’s a penalty. The second one is a penalty too, and offside, too. Maybe it’s offside [against Salif Sane] but it’s a penalty. The red card is a red card.
— FC Schalke 04 (@s04_en) February 20, 2019
“It will improve. When one new system starts, it’s like a manager – you arrive at a club and the people expect in a few months you win every game 6-0.
“VAR appears here, it needs time, it will improve. The referee told us the machine, the screen, is broken, okay, next time it will be better.
“I support this initiative because in the end we try to be fair in football.
“The decisions, sometimes the referees are not able to realise and they must be helped and VAR has the intention to help. So that is what it is.”
Schalke boss Domenico Tedesco accepted his side benefited from “luck” but rued City’s two late goals, which have left his side with a mountain to climb in the return leg at the Etihad Stadium in three weeks’ time.
“We’re obviously very disappointed by the result,” he said.
“We deserved more. For one of the few times this season we had a bit of luck on our side. We knew we’d be pushed deep, but we were sloppy too often on the counter and conceding the goals we did late on was heartbreaking.”
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