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VAR in the Premier League: How has it treated Wolves and Aston Villa?

By Luke Hatfield | Football | Published:

VAR has split opinion countless times already in the Premier League, but how has it impacted Wolves and Aston Villa so far this season?

How has VAR affected Wolves and Aston Villa this season? (Photos: AMA/PA)

Here, we'll take a look at some of the big talking points surrounding VAR in games featuring our two local clubs - and try and decide whether or not the right decision was made.

Getting a detailed verdict from our team on the Expressandstar.com sports desk, let's delve into some VAR controversies.

Wolves VAR controversies:

Leicester 0 Wolves 0 - Willy Boly's 'hand-ball'

HIGHLIGHTS | Leicester City 0-0 Wolves | Premier League | 11th August 2019

The big talking point around VAR came at the King Power Stadium on the opening Premier League weekend, after Leander Dendoncker had a goal chalked off due to a VAR decision relating to hand-ball.

The controversy arose following Joao Moutinho's corner, which was headed by the Belgian onto Boly's arm from close range, only for the midfielder to then fire home in the penalty area - sparking celebrations from Wolves fans and players alike.

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However, the obligatory VAR review took place following the strike, ruling that the ball had struck the French defender's arm meaning that the goal needed to be disallowed.

The Premier League tweeted during the game to clarify the decision, explaining the new hand ball rule.

The review took 98 seconds to complete, but fans were left questioning the reason for the check in the ground before seeing the goal chalked off.

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Wolves correspondent Joe Edwards' verdict:

For the Boly handball, the video technology was used to a tee, although there was a bit of a delay. That's not the problem here.

The issue is the new handball rule which rules out goals if a team-mate touches the ball with his hand/arm, even if unintentional, in the build-up.

Boly didn't even know the ball had brushed his arm, nor did the contact drastically alter the direction the ball went in.

Rubbish rule. But VAR did its job.

Wolves 1 Manchester United 1 - Ruben Neves' wonder-goal

Ruben Neves of Wolverhampton Wanderers celebrates after scoring a goal to make it 1-1 (AMA/Sam Bagnall)

VAR reared its head once again early in the season, this time at Molineux during the entertaining encounter between Wolves and Manchester United.

Following a strong first half from the visiting Red Devils, Wolves levelled through a wonder strike from none other than Ruben Neves.

The 20-yard effort gave David De Gea no chance, and triggered wild celebrations in Molineux - only for fans to become subject to a nervy wait as play was halted due to another VAR check following the goal.

The wait was a lengthy one, as VAR tried to confirm whether Joao Moutinho was in an offside position before receiving the pass he'd eventually cross to his Portuguese compatriot.

Chants of 'F**k VAR' were audible following the check, which eventually confirmed that the goal would stand. Although fans felt robbed of a moment of celebration due to the unexpected and ultimately unnecessary check.

Wolves correspondent Joe Edwards' verdict:

Thankfully, the Neves wonder-strike did not get chalked off.

There was a question of offside. That was not clear to those in the stadium, though, and it did affect the celebration of what was a piece of brilliance from the Portuguese.

Instead of 'VAR checking goal' just coming up on the big screens, it should actually say what the goal is being checked for, such as 'VAR checking goal' for offside'. It's not rocket science.

Wolves 1 Southampton 1 - Raul Jimenez's double that never was...

Jimenez equalises but has two disallowed! | Wolves 1-1 Southampton | Highlights

Raul Jimenez was twice left ruing VAR in October during the game against Southampton.

First, the striker was flagged for handball after taking down a long ball before firing home past Angus Gunn.

The referee's assistant flagged quickly after the Mexican was adjudged to have handled the ball over the Saints' defence, a decision upheld by VAR, which also saw the Mexican booked for his troubles.

The second goal to be chalked off came after Patrick Cutrone's stabbed strike was saved by Gunn, only for Jimenez to pounce on the rebound and fire home.

A VAR review took place, eventually finding Cutrone receiving the ball in an offside position, rubbing out Jimenez's effort - much to the watching masses' despair.

Wolves correspondent Joe Edwards' verdict:

The decision to rule out the first for hand ball was correct, in my opinion.

The second was definitely offside too, albeit marginal.

It wasn't necessarily the decisions which were the problem here, it was the execution of the technology.

Jimenez had wheeled away celebrating the second and was mobbed by his teammates before the VAR check came to light. It just seems to take too long.

Both times, only 'decision no goal' flashed on the screen, the fans at the game had no clue why either goal was chalked off.

Newcastle 1 Wolves 1 - Matt Doherty's 'penalty'

Matt Doherty of Wolverhampton Wanderers reacts. (AMA/Sam Bagnall)

Wolves' clash with Newcastle was not to go without its own VAR controversy, with Matt Doherty the man left wanting with scores level at 1-1 late on.

Jamaal Lascelles appeared to grab the Irishman's shirt in the area, but referee Kevin Friend opted not to award Wolves a penalty.

VAR did check it, but as has been the case for many decisions - it refused to overturn the decision made on the pitch.

Graeme Souness slammed the decision following the game - and called for on-pitch referees to view replays themselves to determine whether they should change their mind.

"I'm sorry if you pull a shirt inside the box, it's a penalty, they have got it wrong! They seem to be doing it every week." he said.

"We need to get back to the referee going back to the side of the pitch and looking at the screen because every week they're getting it wrong. Every week we're talking about something where they don't get it right."

Wolves correspondent Joe Edwards' verdict:

In all honesty, in real time I didn't spot the issue with this challenge.

When played back you can see that Lascelles has a clear hold of Doherty's shirt, but the Wolves man didn't make a meal of it - and perhaps that was his undoing.

You've seen them given, and you've seen them waved away.

Wolves will have counted themselves slightly unlucky with this one, but for me it didn't scream out stone-wall penalty.

For better or worse, defenders hold shirts - and if you give penalties every time it happens there'd be a fair few every game.

Aston Villa VAR controversies:

Aston Villa 1 Bournemouth 2 - Philip Billing's challenges

Jack Grealish was victim of one of Billing's questionable challenges in the game.

VAR was brought into question during Aston Villa's home opener against Bournemouth due to Philip Billing's challenges against the hosts in the first half of the encounter.

Going two goals down early on, Villa were chasing the game, and having been booked already, the Cherries midfielder flew into several challenges which, on another day, could've easily warranted a second booking from Martin Atkinson.

VAR cannot be used for yellow card offenses, regardless if it's the first or second a player is receiving.

Fans were baffled by the decision to let him stay on the pitch following a number of poor challenges - one in particular catching Villa skipper Jack Grealish.

Eddie Howe wisely hooked his midfielder at the break, going on to say that Billing was 'slightly fortunate' after the game finished 2-1 in Bournemouth's favour.

Digital sports journalist Luke Hatfield's verdict:

This was a frustrating day for Villa, with the performance perhaps not matching the result they got - although fans couldn't blame VAR itself for Billing staying on the pitch.

If anything, Martin Atkinson was probably the person in question regarding Billing, who nine times out of ten would've seen red given the challenges he was making.

VAR can't get involved on yellow card decisions, and none of the tackles he made warranted a red.

It was frustrating for fans, but this one falls solely on Atkinson's shoulders, not VAR's.

Crystal Palace 1 Aston Villa 0 - Jack Grealish's 'dive'/Henri Lansbury's disallowed goal

Referee decision denies Villa draw! | Crystal Palace 1-0 Aston Villa | Premier League Highlights

Arguably one of the biggest talking points surrounding VAR to date in the Premier League. Aston Villa were denied a last-gasp equaliser at Selhurst Park after Jack Grealish was deemed to have dived prior to laying on a would-be assist to teammate Henri Lansbury in August.

With Dean Smith's team down to ten men after Trezeguet earned his second booking of the afternoon, the Midlanders found themselves a goal down late on after Jordan Ayew struck.

The real controversy came at the death though, as Jack Grealish ran through the Eagles' midfield before receiving a push from Wilfried Zaha causing him to stumble off-balance, the Villa skipper still managed to pass the ball to Henri Lansbury before receiving a subsequent clattering from Gary Cahill, as Villa's seldom-used midfielder rifled home.

Villa's players began to celebrate their last-minute equaliser, only for referee Kevin Friend to rule out the goal, having whistled just a fraction of a second before Lansbury's strike had crossed the line. He went on to book Grealish for diving, despite clear contact between the skipper and both Zaha and Cahill.

VAR couldn't rule on the goal itself, as Friend had whistled before the ball crossed the line. However, a review upheld his decision not to award a penalty after Grealish was upended by Cahill.

The decision dumbfounded players, fans and pundits alike, with former Villa loanee Jermaine Jenas labelling the decision as 'one of the worst' he'd ever seen on BBC's Match of the Day.

Digital sports journalist Luke Hatfield's verdict:

For me, this is one of the biggest mistakes that has been made with VAR so far.

Villa couldn't really complain about Trezeguet's two yellows, the Egyptian was foolish to catch Zaha on a booking. But the decision in the dying moments was perplexing to say the least.

Grealish was quite clearly caught twice, and the fact he actually plays the ball on to Lansbury should negate any potential act of simulation, but Kevin Friend obviously thought otherwise.

The fact of the matter is, despite the ball not having crossed the line and Friend's whistle blowing before that too - there was little Palace could have done about Lansbury's strike.

Villa were poor this day, but they were robbed of a point. I'd like to think that should this kind of situation arise again, common sense would prevail, but that's been in short supply regarding VAR this season, so that may be wishful thinking.

Aston Villa 0 West Ham 0 - Anwar El Ghazi's 'headbutt'

One of the stranger altercations VAR has been called upon to judge this season was the clash between Anwar El Ghazi and teammate Tyrone Mings during the 0-0 draw with West Ham.

During the goalless draw, Mings criticised his teammate after the Dutchman failed to track back during a Hammers attack. El Ghazi reacted poorly to the verbal confrontation, pushing his head towards the centre-back's face.

The confrontation went no further than that - but it did result in a VAR review, although this wasn't shown on the screens at Villa Park, perplexing fans at the game.

Referee Mike Dean didn't book either player, and the VAR upheld the decision not to send either player off.

Dean Smith said after the game that the players dealt with the situation themselves at half time and that the issue wouldn't be brought up again.

Players have been sent off for violent conduct against teammates before. With Kieron Dyer and Lee Bowyer both seeing red for fighting between themselves in a game against Villa in 2005.

Digital sports journalist Luke Hatfield's verdict:

It's not very often you see two players on the same team going head to head - and in reality this could've ended a lot worse for Villa.

At the game, I didn't feel there was much in this, but as is the case with replays, it didn't look good on a second viewing.

Ultimately I feel the decision not to send either player off was probably right, but on another day El Ghazi could've certainly seen red.

If this happens between opposing players, I think there's a much greater chance of someone getting an early shower.

VAR didn't cover itself in glory with its execution for this, by the way. There was nothing on the screens to mention a check was taking place, nor was there anything shown to reflect the decision not to send either Villa player off.

Arsenal 3 Aston Villa 2 - David Luiz in the Villa wall

Aston Villa players appear dejected at the end of the Premier League match at the Emirates Stadium

A game with plenty of controversy, Aston Villa managed to lose against ten men at Arsenal, despite leading at half time - but should the Gunners have been denied their winner?

Having been awarded a free kick late in the game, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang fired past Tom Heaton, completing the comeback for the hosts.

However, replays showed that David Luiz was well within a metre of the Villa wall when Aubameyang struck the free kick, something which is now against the rules of the game.

VAR was not called upon to judge the positioning of the wall, although the obligatory check over the goal would've taken place, meaning the infraction could well have been missed.

The new laws regarding defensive walls state that attacking players are not allowed within one metre of a wall consisting of three or more defending players.

Digital sports journalist Luke Hatfield's verdict:

What a frustrating game this was, and VAR didn't help one bit from a Villa perspective.

The new rules regarding free kicks have been clear since the opening day of the season, and from the games I've covered - players have tended to stick to the rules. Although I'm yet to see a referee pull back a set piece for any kind of infraction.

The fact of the matter here is that Aubameyang has scored from the free kick, and therefore a review needs to take place to ensure its legitimacy.

As the free kick is set up, Luiz is in a legal position, but as Aubameyang strikes the ball he's well within a metre of the wall, meaning under the new rules that a free kick should be awarded to Villa. Whether you agree with the rule or not, Arsenal got away with it.

My sense is that VAR simply missed this, something which is incredibly frustrating given the focus on the smallest of offside calls week after week.

Arsenal 3 Aston Villa 2 - Sokratis' 'hand-ball'

Ten-man Arsenal come from behind to win! | Arsenal 3-2 Aston Villa | Premier League Highlights

Villa's defeat to Arsenal was compounded in the dying moments of normal time, as they hunted a late equaliser at the Emirates.

Conor Hourihane, introduced as a late substitute, struck a shot toward goal and with the ball seemingly destined for the back of the net, it flew into the arm of Arsenal defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos before flying off target.

In real-time, the decision seemed a tricky one, but replays appear to show the defender leaning in to block the ball with his arm clearly away from his body.

Referee Jonathan Moss waved away Villa's desperate appeals for a spot-kick, and VAR did not overturn the decision, leaving fans fuming.

The decision was widely criticised by pundits on BBC's Match of the Day 2 programme, with Danny Murphy stating that it was 'as blatant as I’ve seen for a handball that’s not been overturned.'

Digital sports journalist Luke Hatfield's verdict:

As if VAR didn't get Villa's backs up enough this day?

In real time, I understand the referee's decision not to award this as a penalty for Villa. The ball is moving quickly and the referee's view might not be the best.

However, on second viewing - it's as blatant as they come.

Whether Hourihane's attempt is on target or not is of little relevance. Sokratis clearly blocks his effort with his arm and even leans into the ball to get something on it.

More than half of the Villa players on the pitch appealed for the penalty, and there were more than a few nervous glances from Arsenal players too.

How VAR didn't see this as handball is beyond me. It was a shocker of a decision.

That said, there were no guarantees they'd score from the resulting spot-kick, but it may well have cost Villa a big result at the Emirates.

Aston Villa 2 Brighton 1 - Conor Hourihane's tackle and 'goal'

Aston Villa 2-1 Brighton | Extended highlights

VAR was the scourge of Aston Villa midfielder Conor Hourihane during Villa's 2-1 win over Brighton.

The first decision to go against the Irishman was a challenge on Martin Montoya, which despite appearing to be perfectly timed, was penalised by referee David Coote. Brighton went on to score from the resulting free-kick, much to the dismay of the home support.

Following Aaron Mooy's sending off, Hourihane looked to have drew the game level after firing home as Villa looked to put their stamp on the game.

However, following the goal Coote drew the game back following a lengthy VAR check, with the team at Stockley Park adjudging Wesley to have fouled Mat Ryan in the build up - somewhat harshly.

The decision was one of the first made on a subjective call in the Premier League this season, leading Dean Smith and Conor Hourihane to criticise the use of VAR post-match - despite Villa winning via Matt Targett's last-gasp strike.

Digital sports journalist Luke Hatfield's verdict:

Let's start with the free kick. Hourihane certainly wins the ball, that's without question - but it's down to the on-field referee to determine if he fouls Montoya - you can win the ball and still foul your opponent.

I must admit I think Villa were a tad unlucky with that, but there's still plenty that could be done to stop Brighton scoring from the resulting set piece. VAR couldn't intervene anyway, as it wasn't a red card offence, that's an issue with its implementation as opposed to the technology itself.

I'm not sure Brighton could complain about Mooy's sending off, the first is a silly booking and the second challenge was a stonewall yellow card.

As for Villa's disallowed goal, it's a little bit harsh. I'd argue Wesley has every right to challenge Ryan for the cross, and although there are a couple of muted complaints from the goalkeeper and Lewis Dunk I'm not sold on it being a foul.

Of course, VAR disagreed, but was it 'clear and obvious'? I have my doubts. On top of that, the review took so long, both sides had set up for Brighton's kick off - which isn't a good look for it as a system. You feel decisions need to be quicker than that.

Villa went on to win the game thanks to Matt Targett's late strike, so at the end of the day it didn't alter the final result, so there's a positive.

Aston Villa 2-2 Burnley - 'McGinn's tap-in'

VAR disallows possible Villa winner in dramatic tie! | Aston Villa 2-2 Burnley | EPL Highlights

John McGinn looked to have opened the scoring against Sean Dyche's side when he tapped in Conor Hourihane's cross against the Clarets.

So convinced were both sides that the goal would stand, Burnley took the ball to the centre circle and were all ready to kick off.

But after the review, referee Lee Mason disallowed it with Hourihane judged to be offside by the smallest of margins.

Digital sports journalist Luke Hatfield's verdict:

By the letter of the law, VAR got the decision right. But former Villa striker Alan McInally, who was at the game in his role as a pundit for Sky Sports, probably best summed up the madness.

“It's a joke," he said. "Make it daylight, there's not a problem. This where his toe or shoulder is offside, it's killing us man, it's killing us.”

Manchester City 3 Aston Villa 0 - David Silva's goal

Manchester City 3 - 0 Aston Villa | Extended Highlights

More VAR controversy was at the fore for Villa at the Etihad in October.

Having held City for the first half, Villa found themselves a goal down immediately following the restart through Raheem Sterling.

However, it was City's second goal which caused uproar once again within the claret and blue fanbase.

Kevin De Bruyne's cross appeared to evade everyone before finding the bottom corner - but Sterling seemed to be interfering with play by blocking Tom Heaton's view between the sticks.

Whilst onside for the initial delivery, judging by replays David Silva seemed to touch the ball on its way through to goal whilst the forward was offside.

The goal was given controversially, with VAR official Jon Moss claiming that replays didn't confirm whether or not Silva got a touch on the cross, before the Premier League goal accreditation panel awarded the goal to the Spaniard following the game.

Digital sports journalist Luke Hatfield's verdict:

This was a tricky one, and in real time it's hard to spot anything wrong with the goal.

You do hear a touch from Silva in the broadcast though, and when he brushes the ball Sterling is clearly offside - so it should be ruled out as the England man is clearly in Heaton's eyeline.

The telling reaction came from David Silva, who celebrates as if he's scored, that should be a give away for VAR as to whether he's touched it. Although, I understand the issue they had looking at it back as it's such a small touch it isn't conclusive on replays.

Heaton and Villa are right to feel a little hard done by, and although it would've only been a one goal lead for City had it been overturned - I doubt Villa would've got much from the Cityzens regardless.

Aston Villa 1 Liverpool 2 - Trezeguet's goal and Roberto Firmino's ruled out effort

VAR has not been Villa's friend this season so far, but it did play out in their favour against Liverpool, although the result ultimately went against them in heartbreaking fashion.

Dean Smith's side saw a number of chances go begging before Trezeguet got them ahead off a John McGinn free kick - however, as with all goals it was subject to review by the technology.

The Egyptian was judged on-side by a matter of inches, so after a minute's wait - the goal was correctly given.

However, Roberto Firmino looked to have levelled before the first half finished, tapping home off a Sadio Mane cross.

The official's flag was up though, only for another VAR review taking place to confirm that the goal was offside.

Replays seemed to show that the Brazilian was millimetres ahead of Villa's last defender, after a number of lines were drawn to determine whether he was onside or offside.

The decision to flag the striker was upheld, although it didn't affect the final result, with two late strikes triggering delirium in the away end as Liverpool secured a 2-1 win.

Confusion reigned following the game, with claims that the initial lines drawn seemed to show Firmino was actually onside.

Digital sports journalist Luke Hatfield's verdict:

Two very close offside decisions, and for once - VAR actually sided with Villa each time.

Trezeguet's goal seemed perfectly fine in real time, but on second viewing he's only marginally on. Either way, it was given - albeit after a nervy wait for the fans.

As for Firmino's 'goal' it's nearly exactly the same, only the wrong side of the line.

In fairness to the referee's assistant, he did flag instantly - although I've no idea how he spotted it in real time.

But was this what VAR was brought in for? I'm not so sure. Offside is one of the black and white issues in football though, you're either off or on - and regardless of how small the margin, Firmino was offside.

I must admit, I don't think you'd have seen any manager moaning about the Brazilian being offside in his post-match interview last season, however.

If I were a Liverpool fan, I'd be frustrated by the decision, but equally - by the letter of the law it's the correct call.

Luke Hatfield

By Luke Hatfield
Digital Sports Journalist - @LHatfield_Star

Digital Sports Journalist based in Wolverhampton working on the Express & Star and Shropshire Star.

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