Robin Sainty: Sounds like refs have VAR covered, so that’s ok then...
Anyone who isn’t a fan of VAR won’t feel very comforted by the outcome of last week’s meeting between officials of the Premier League clubs and Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), the body overseeing it.
It would seem that no substantive changes are to be made to the system itself, although there is a stated desire to improve the level of communication with fans in the stadium, but it was worrying to say the least to hear that Neil Swarbrick, the Premier League referees' lead on VAR, rates the system as a seven out of 10 so far.
We at Norwich had seen relatively little of VAR in action before the Manchester United game when the on-field referee was overruled twice in favour of United after interminable delays, but I've certainly not seen anything that convinces me that it's a major step forward in improving decision making, nor that it is doing anything to provide more of a level playing field between the big clubs and the likes of City or indeed apparent hierarchy of the refereeing world.
In the aftermath of the controversial top of the table clash between Manchester City and Liverpool I happened to tune into Sky Sports News just as ex-Premier League referee Dermot Gallagher was assessing whether Alexander Trent-Arnold had handled the ball in his own box just before Liverpool's opening goal and what he said absolutely flabbergasted me.
"Stop talking about VAR as he (match referee Michael Oliver) solely makes the decision. It comes too fast. Michael Oliver sees the speed of the ball and it's hit Alexander-Arnold on the arm. I think he has the best view of everybody, and that last shot shows that. Striking an arm isn't a penalty and Michael Oliver has the speed of the game. He knows the speed that came at and he is the one who went 'no'. At that point, it was an on-field decision and VAR would never go above that."
This raises two key points about the uneven application of VAR. Firstly, the principle that "striking an arm isn't a penalty" when the ball comes at pace may have been applied to Alexander-Arnold (and also John Stones in City's game against Manchester City) but wasn't to Todd Cantwell against United, and more insidiously Michael Oliver's decision making is apparently considered so unquestionable that VAR cannot overrule him in the way that it twice did Stuart Atwell at Carrow Road.
I appreciate that Gallagher is a pundit and not a PGMOL representative, but even so I found those comments worrying, particularly given that it appears that there is still no appetite to encourage referees to have the final say after reviewing incidents themselves on pitch-side monitors.
I suspect that there are many more VAR-related controversies to come but let's hope we don't have any this afternoon as City try to get their season back on track.
At least they have the prospect of at least one centre back returning from injury either today or next week and if that means that Ibrahim Amadou can finally take his correct position then that will be a major step forward and perhaps only then will we be able to judge the true capabilities of this squad.
There is no question that one of the key areas where City have floundered has been midfield where we have seen them physically overpowered so often this season, with a knock-on effect to the makeshift back four who have frequently lacked enough protection.
I was excited by Amadou's signing because I felt that he offered a combination of power, speed and passing ability that not only made him unique in City's squad but also the sort of midfielder that every other Premier League club seems to have on their books, and now at last we may be about to find out how good he actually is.