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Game-Changing Officiating Errors in Liverpool-Tottenham Match Highlight Need for VAR

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The Premier League doesn’t give its officials the tools to do their job and it’s hurting the game.

Liverpool v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

A draw, based on the run of play, was a fair result. Liverpool had the better of it in the first half and Tottenham the better of it in the second, and few would have complained had the game ended level. Then the game ended level and everyone, at least on the Liverpool side, was complaining. And just as a draw wasn’t the wrong result on the run of play, those complaints weren’t wrong.

Because Tottenham didn’t level the match on their own—they got help from the officials when the referee and linesman got together to wrongly award Tottenham their second penalty of the night. Their first penalty, which Harry Kane missed, was also wrongly awarded. Spurs didn’t miss the second. It’s proof, if any was still needed, of just how desperately the English game needs video replay.

If the Premier League had video replay, Liverpool would have won the game 2-1 no matter what the two sides deserved on the run of play. Instead it’s a 2-2 scoreline based on a call replays showed was unambiguously wrong. Which means a wrong call by the officials could in the end play a role in determining who finishes where in the race for the lucrative Champions League places.

It ends up making the officials and league look incompetent, or worse. Yet from some replays, using angles similar to the one the linesman has, it appears Van Dijk does make some contact with Lamela’s right leg. Taking all the angles into account makes it unambiguous he stops just short, but the linesman doesn’t have every angle—just the one where Lamela falls to the pitch with Van Dijk’s foot obscured behind his right leg, appearing to have contacted it.

It takes all the angles to get to the reality: Van Dijk halting his swing for the ball and his knee brushing the Spurs player’s back and Lamela backing into it and collapsing. It’s not a penalty, and quite clearly so, and that the linesman follows up wrongly awarding it by pumping his first as though in celebration—perhaps excited at having had the “nerve” to make a big call in front of the Kop—is an unfortunate, embarrassing way to decide a match.

But it’s not all on the linesman or referee. There should have been tools in place to help ensure the wrong call wasn’t made. Even if it’s not a malicious call or incompetent call, it is the wrong call. And coming after Harry Kane’s earlier awarded penalty when he was both offside and dove, it adds up to a laughably poor ending for the men charged with officiating one of the matches of the season in the self-proclaimed best league in the world.

Video replay would almost certainly have solved it. Instead, tonight, Jon Moss and his officiating team come out looking incompetent and could find their prospects of working top matches limited as a result. For their sake, and for the sake of the league, they and their fellow officials need to be given the tools to avoid looking so in the future—the tools to officiate games in a fair and neutral fashion rather than to play an active role in determining their outcome.

The Bundesliga use VAR, and even if its implementation can sometimes cause delays, it cuts down on game-changing bad calls—it helps to ensure that it’s the players who are determining the outcome of the matches. MLS, too, use it. The Premier League, for all their money and influence, are well behind, and on Sunday it meant the mistakes of officials played a role in determining the outcome of one of the biggest games of the season.

It doesn’t need to be a conspiracy or take malicious intent or even incompetence. Even if the officials are doing their best, if they’re botching game-changing calls it’s clearly a problem. It’s a problem, even if it’s just human beings trying their best and making honest mistakes. And it’s a problem other leagues are doing a much better job of solving than England are right now.