Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Standing on the Shoulder of Sterling – VAR introduction no oasis for City slickers

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 10 Aug 2019

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And so it begins. Where is the game? Has it gone already?

After a ragged first-half showing punctuated by Gabriel Jesus’ superbly crafted opener, Manchester City were hitting their stride at London Stadium.

Kevin De Bruyne’s typically immaculate throughball allowed Raheem Sterling to double the advantage for Pep Guardiola’s Premier League champions and West Ham were cut to ribbons once more as David Silva and Sterling left Gabriel Jesus with a tap-in.

But wait… what?

As both teams prepared to restart, referee Mike Dean was informed Sterling – or, more accurately, the tip of Sterling’s left shoulder was offside. No goal.

What followed was an example of the ripples we might expect to see, now VAR has been dropped into the Premier League pond – the choppy waters caused now largely becalmed in Europe’s other major leagues.

In the final analysis, City coasted to a leisurely 5-0 win, but in the immediate aftermath of the disallowed goal, their composure deserted them.

Television replays showed Sterling telling Dean exactly what he thought of the call and a home crowd, who were operating at a hush moments earlier, roared West Ham forward.

Issa Diop saw his header drop on to the roof of the City goal, in which Ederson made a stunning double save to maintain a two-goal advantage.

Contentious decisions changing the momentum of games by affecting the composure of those involved is nothing new in football. But those moments normally come through a sense of injustice due to anger at an officiating mistake.

City’s second-half wobble jarred because it was caused by a decision correct to the millimetre after an incident that prompted no complaint from any of the 22 players on the field.

This did not feel like the game being made better by technology. The same could be said for Sterling’s lengthy wait to have the second goal of his hat-trick confirmed, nor Sergio Aguero getting a second go at beating Lukasz Fabianski form the penalty spot due to Declan Rice encroaching and clearing the rebound.

“It’s a bit difficult during the game because you want your goal to stand,” Sterling told BT Sport. “But at the end of the day, if the decision’s right, that’s all that matters.”

The Premier League must hope fans are just as magnanimous. They shouldn’t hold their breath.

Saturday’s early game did not even delve into the murky world of interpretation – foul or no foul – which is where you’d have expected the fun to begin.

The decisions Dean had assistance with were absolutes, a matter of lines and where players stood in relation to them.

But, even though this should be simple – like whether a tennis serve is out or an lbw call in cricket has pitched outside leg stump – football has never operated to such degrees of accuracy.

VAR is subjecting the laws of the game to a scrutiny they were never designed to withstand and, if technology is to be accepted by fans, this is where changes should be.

“It looked level”, “borderline” and other such accepted vagaries have to be obliterated along with all other shades of grey.

Perhaps, in terms of offside, there should be a move to drawing the line where “daylight” appears between opponents, as opposed to any part of the body a player can use to score – the factor that did for Sterling.

But defenders would be entitled to argue this skews the balance further in favour of attackers, who have been shown to get the benefit of repeatedly replayed penalty incidents and hardline interpretations of the handball rule.

The technology is only as effective as the rules it is being used to help implement. Right now, those do not feel up to standard.

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