The VAR Review: Van Dijk red card, Manchester United penalty

Dale JohnsonGeneral Editor, ESPN FCAug 28, 2023, 07:57 AM ET13 Minute Read

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Video Assistant Referee causes controversy every week in the Premier League, but how are decisions made, and are they correct?

After each weekend we take a look at the major incidents, to examine and explain the process both in terms of VAR protocol and the Laws of the Game.

– How VAR decisions have affected every Prem club in 2023-24
– VAR in the Premier League: Ultimate guide

In this week’s VAR Review: Was it the correct decision to send off Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk at Newcastle United? Was the VAR right not to intervene to cancel the penalty for Manchester United or the red card for Nottingham Forest defender Joe Worrall?

Possible red card overturn: Van Dijk tackle on Isak

What happened: Newcastle United were 1-0 in front in the 28th minute when Alexander Isak looked to spin around Virgil van Dijk on the edge of the area. The striker went to ground, and referee John Brooks immediately produced the red card. Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp was furious at the decision, and the VAR, Stuart Attwell, began a review.

VAR decision: Red card stands.

Virgil van Dijk goes through Alexander Isak to win the ballBBC

VAR review: As Isak would have had a clear run on goal after turning Van Dijk the decision-making process is simple for Brooks: if it’s a foul it has to be a red card for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity (DOGSO).

The triple jeopardy exception, which says a player shouldn’t be sent off if they are making a genuine attempt for the ball, only applies inside the area. This is because the attacking side would be awarded a penalty, so the clear goal-scoring opportunity still exists. While a free kick is still a chance to score, it has a much lower probability of success than a penalty. If Van Dijk had fouled Isak inside the area it would only have been a yellow card.

After the match Klopp still said he disagreed with the red card, but Van Dijk went through Isak to win the ball and it was a textbook DOGSO situation.

Van Dijk’s reaction to decision is likely to lead to a Football Association charge, and possible extension to the mandatory one-game suspension.

Alexander Isak would have been through on goal with a clear goal-scoring opportunity.BBC

Possible red card overturn: Worrall on Fernandes

What happened: Bruno Fernandes broke through the centre on the edge of the box in the 67th minute and went to ground under a challenge from Joe Worrall. Referee Stuart Attwell gave the free kick and produced the red card for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.

VAR decision: Red card stands.

VAR review: While Attwell may have had a simple decision to uphold the red card for Van Dijk when he was the VAR on Sunday for the Newcastle-Liverpool game, this was not so cut and dried.

Firstly, not being the last defender isn’t the key consideration for a red card, though another defender being ahead of the play can be a factor. The referee has to ask himself whether Fernandes would have had the chance to score from the position he was in — regardless of the presence of Willy Boly closing in.

The Van Dijk dismissal provides the perfect comparison. Isak had created the chance for himself and would have had a clear run on goal. With Fernandes there was a greater question mark over his ability to collect the ball ahead of either Boly or goalkeeper Matt Turner.

The ball holds up as Bruno Fernandes runs through, meaning there is a strong likelihood that the Manchester United player would get a shot on goal.BBC

It’s a close call, and subjectively could have gone either way. But there’s nothing that suggests either Boly or Turner would definitely have been able to challenge before the United player got a shot on goal. The VAR, Robert Jones, checked the situation and with it being a 50-50 call on a red card he wouldn’t intervene to overturn.

Possible penalty overturn: Danilo foul on Rashford

What happened: Manchester United were awarded a penalty in the 75th minute when Marcus Rashford went down under a challenge from Danilo. Referee Attwell immediately pointed to the spot and the VAR began a check.

VAR decision: Penalty stands, scored by Fernandes.

VAR review: This was the second of three decisions that angered Forest boss Steve Cooper, but there is no chance of this penalty being reversed. As soon as the VAR confirms the lower-body contact from the Forest defender on Rashford the on-field decision of penalty is supportable.

Cooper also wanted a red card for Scott McTominay late in the game for high foot on Cheikhou Kouyaté, but there’s no chance that would be considered serious foul play.

The Forest manager complained that the VAR had made the decisions too quickly, but in all three situations there was no other outcome likely. Cooper would have a more valid complaint if he argued about not getting the calls in his favour from the referee, but the VAR wouldn’t intervene

Danilo makes contact on Marcus Rashford’s thigh, meaning the VAR would not intervene on the decision to give a penalty.BBC

Possible penalty overturn: Handball by Egan

What happened: Manchester City were awarded a penalty in the 35th minute when Julián Álvarez tried to cut the ball back into the box and it hit the raised arm of John Egan. Referee Jarred Gillett pointed to the spot.

VAR decision: Penalty stands, missed by Erling Haaland.

VAR review: As mentioned in last week’s VAR Review, we’ll see a variety of handball decision which people think are the same, but in reality every individual situation has its own unique merits and considerations. That doesn’t change the fact that the perceived inconsistencies frustrate supporters.

John Egan has his arm raised when the ball hits it.BBC

Manchester United were annoyed that they didn’t get a penalty at Tottenham Hotspur, with the VAR choosing not to penalise Cristian Romero even though he had his arm out because he was close to the ball.

As well as proximity, a player’s expected body position for their movement should be taken into account — so where should Egan have his arm when he’s sliding? The guidelines state that if a player has their arm above shoulder height they are taking an increased risk of being penalised. Egan certainly does this and prevents the ball from reaching Haaland inside the area.

Possible penalty: Robinson on Haaland

What happened: Just before half-time Haaland went to ground after being held by Jack Robinson, and looked at Gillett asking for a penalty. The referee waved away the appeals.

VAR decision: No penalty.

VAR review:

While Robinson did put his arms around Haaland before the ball was played in, it certainly didn’t impede the Manchester City striker or make him go to ground in the way he did. It was the correct decision not to award a spot kick.

Jack Robinson tussles with Erling Haaland inside the area.BBC

Possible offside: McBurnie on Bogle goal

What happened: Sheffield United equalised in the 86th minute when Jayden Bogle fired across Éderson and into the opposite corner. But Oliver McBurnie was seemingly in an offside position when Bogle hit the shot, so was he interfering with the Man City goalkeeper?

VAR decision: Goal stands.

VAR review: On the face of it there appeared to be an offside decision to be made here, but in fact Kyle Walker was playing the whole Sheffield United attack onside by being laid off the pitch. If a defender leaves the field either by their momentum, or without permission from the referee, they are considered to be on the line nearest to them. So Walker in effect created an offside line level with the goalkeeper, and no attacking player could be offside.

Kyle Walker plays the Sheffield United attack onside by being off the pitch.BBC

If McBurnie had been offside the VAR would certainly have had a decision to make, as Ederson collided with the striker in attempting to make the save. There would be an argument that the ball had already gone past Ederson before he came into contact with McBurnie, so it would have been a controversial moment either way.

Arsenal’s second goal against Fulham came in similar circumstances, with Calvin Bassey down injured near the goalline before Edward Nketiah scored. The Arsenal striker was probably behind his nearest defender anyway, but it wasn’t even a consideration with another Fulham player on the floor ahead of him.

Calvin Bassey is down in the box, effectively creating an offside line to play all Arsenal’s players onside.BBC

Possible penalty: Handball by Aarons

What happened: James Maddison took a shot in the 10th minute, with Max Aarons getting a block in. There were appeals for a penalty for handball.

VAR decision: No penalty.

The ball hits Max Aarons on the arm, but it’s close to his body.BBC

VAR review: The ball hit Aarons towards the top of his arm, but it’s close to his body and not making it unnaturally bigger.

It could still be a penalty in this situation if the Bournemouth player had leant into the ball with his arm, but that wasn’t the case here.

Possible red card: Romero on Semenyo

What happened: Cristian Romero won the ball off Antoine Semenyo in the 36th minute and Tottenham Hotspur broke on the counter, but was there a case for a red card against the defender?

VAR decision: No red card.

Cristian Romero went through Antoine Semenyo to win the ball, but it wasn’t a red-card offence.BBC

VAR review: Referee Tim Robinson certainly missed a free kick against Romero, as he kicked through Semenyo to get to the ball — just as Van Dijk did when trying to win the ball off Isak. But there was no excessive force in the challenge and no chance that the VAR, John Brooks, would intervene to advise a red card.

Possible red card: Perisic on Aarons

What happened: Ivan Perisic was booked in the 70th minute after an altercation on the touchline with Aarons, but could the yellow have been upgraded to a red?

VAR decision: No red card.

Ivan Perisic pulled at Max Aarons’ shirt before pushing his away.BBC

VAR review: When deciding if this should be a red card for violent conduct, the VAR must consider how Perisic has come to throw his arm toward Aarons. It’s clear from the replay that Perisic has a hold of the AFC Bournemouth player’s shirt around the shoulder area, and then pushes away from this point. So rather than throwing an arm at Aarons, Perisic is really pushing at his opponent.

The VAR isn’t going to intervene and suggest a yellow card isn’t sufficient punishment in a situation like this.

Possible penalty: Paquetá on Estupiñán

What happened: Pervis Estupiñán broke into the box in the 51st minute and was challenged by Lucas Paquetá, with the Brighton & Hove Albion defender going to ground under a shoulder-to-shoulder challenge. Referee Anthony Taylor ignored the appeals for a penalty.

VAR decision: No penalty.

Pervis Estupiñán clashes with Lucas Paquetá.BBC

VAR review: Players are allowed to challenge opponents with their shoulder, and it only becomes an offence if it’s clearly in the back or with excessive force. Paquetá took a risk in the way he challenged Estupiñán, but the Brighton player also leant into the West Ham United player. This kind of situation will always remain with the on-field referee and the VAR won’t intervene.

Possible penalty: Handball by Coufal

What happened: Brighton appealed for a penalty when Estupinan tried to cut the ball back inside the area and the ball hit the arm of Vladimír Coufal. Again the referee wasn’t interested in a spot kick (watch here).

VAR decision: No penalty.

The ball hits Vladimír Coufal’s arm as it’s supporting his body.Brighton & Hove Albion

VAR review: There were claims that this incident was identical to the penalty Lewis Dunk conceded against Luton at the start of the season — but that isn’t the case at all.

While the better decision in Dunk’s case would have been no penalty, there are more similarities to the penalty Egan gave away, as in both cases the arms were raised.

In Coufal’s case, he had his arm on the ground supporting the body, and this is in the exemptions against a handball offence. A penalty should never be awarded in this situation.

Lewis Dunk had his arm raised when it was hit by the ball.BBC

Possible penalty: Lockyer foul on Silva

What happened: In the 52nd minute Thiago Silva attempted to spin past Tom Lockyer and appeared to be held. Referee Robert Jones allowed play to continue.

VAR decision: No penalty.

Tom Lockyer takes a risk by pulling on the shirt of Thiago Silva.BBC

VAR review: While the Luton Town defender was holding onto Silva shirt for a short time, that alone isn’t enough to constitute a penalty, as it has to have an impact on the player being able to challenge for or play the ball.

Lockyer certainly took a chance, but the holding wasn’t prolonged and a VAR will not get involved in a situation such as this.

Some parts of this article include information provided by the Premier League and PGMOL.

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