VAR explainer: when, where and how is it used in the Premier League?

All goals scored, penalties awarded and red cards given in the Premier League are now automatically checked by VAR

The giant screen signals to the referee, players and crowd at the Etihad Stadium, for Manchester City's clash with Tottenham Hotspur in August, that a VAR check over a disputed Gabriel Jesus goal has been completed. The goal was chalked off. Getty 
The giant screen signals to the referee, players and crowd at the Etihad Stadium, for Manchester City's clash with Tottenham Hotspur in August, that a VAR check over a disputed Gabriel Jesus goal has been completed. The goal was chalked off. Getty 

Video Assistant Referee (VAR) explained

All goals scored, penalties awarded and red cards given in the Premier League are now automatically checked by VAR.

It also aims to prevent cases of mistaken identity in red card incidents and can also alert officials of incidents of foul play missed by a referee, such as an off-the ball incident.

For factual decisions such as offside or the ball being out of play, the VAR will inform the referee, who will overturn any award of a goal.

For subjective decisions such as a foul or a handball, VAR can be used to overturn if a “clear and obvious error” has been identified.

The referee will explain his decision to the VAR and what he has seen. If the evidence provided by the broadcast footage does not match with what the referee believes he has seen, then the VAR can recommend an overturn. The final call still remains with the on-field referee.

VAR cannot be used to advise yellow cards (including second yellows), potential fouls in ordinary play, deciding on corners or throw-ins.

The guiding principle of VAR in the Premier League is that it should interfere as little as possible and not affect the fast and furious nature of England’s top-flight.

How does VAR work in practice?

  • The VAR speaks to the on-field referee through an earpiece, or vice-versa, and the referee will put his hand up to pause play and inform the players a decision is being reviewed.
  • The footage is reviewed and VAR advises whether or not action should be taken. If an error is spotted, the referee will draw a rectangle with his arms to replicate a TV screen to change his original decision.
  • In more subjective incidents, VAR will instruct the referee to watch a replay on a pitchside screen.

Who and where are the VARs?

VARs are qualified match officials. Their appointment as part of the refereeing team is announced by the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) for every Premier League match round at the beginning of each week. VAR HQ is at Stockley Park in West London, and every Premier League manager was invited there during the summer to be briefed on how the system will work.

What sort of accuracy is being targeted?

The Premier League have stressed VAR will not automatically bring 100 per cent accuracy, which is almost impossible. Before the season kicked off, accuracy rate for key game incidents was 82 per cent, and the introduction of VAR will to improve on that.

The big screen at Molineux displays a VAR review message after Wolverhampton Wanderers' Ruben Neves scored their equaliser against Manchester United on August 19. Reuters
The big screen at Molineux displays a VAR review message after Wolverhampton Wanderers' Ruben Neves scored their equaliser against Manchester United on August 19. Reuters

How is the Premier League VAR different to other versions?

  • Unlike at last summer’s World Cup or in the Uefa Champions League, Premier League referees have been told to avoid reviews at pitchside whenever possible. This is to try and minimise disruption to the flow of the game as these types of reviews cause the longest delays in play. For example, during England’s 3-0 win over Cameroon in the second round at the 2019 Fifa Women’s World Cup, 18 minutes were added on to the match due to pitch-side reviews. This is exactly what the Premier League is trying to avoid.
  • The Premier League referees are interpreting the laws of the game differently to the way matches have been officiated in the Champions League or Women’s World Cup. Officials will follow a softer interpretation of the handball rule, for example. This means that penalties - such as the one was awarded against Tottenham Hotspur’s Moussa Sissoko in the 2018/19 Champions League final against Liverpool - will not be given.
  • When a penalty has been awarded, VAR will not be used to judge whether a goalkeeper is off their line, unless a blatant error has been made by the referee. This was decided after there was a number of retaken penalties at the Women’s World Cup.
  • Referees will disallow any goal in which the ball strikes the hand of an attacking player in the build-up, deliberate or otherwise. This rule saw Wolves have a goal chalked off in their opening weekend draw at Leicester City and should have seen Fabian Schar’s equaliser for Newcastle United at home to Watford before the international break disallowed, as the ball had struck Isaac Hayden’s arm before the Swiss defender scored.

Updated: September 14, 2019 12:01 PM

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