Get ready for 'new, improved' VAR, City fans

Norwich City had to suffer some dubious VAR calls in their previous Premier League season

Norwich City had to suffer some dubious VAR calls in their previous Premier League season - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

The Premier League intends to clamp down on 'soft' penalties' this season, while attackers are set to benefit from the scrapping of so-called 'toenail' offsides - music to Teemu Pukki's ears after Norwich City's previous brush with VAR.

Referees' chief Mike Riley has mapped out some subtle changes to the controversial system ahead of it being used for a third campaign in the Premier League.

Pukki was denied a goal against Tottenham at Carrow Road in December 2019 by the VAR officials that may have stood under guidance issued for this coming season.

Former Norwich defender Ben Godfrey was also the first top flight player to have a yellow card upgraded to a red after the referee consulted a pitchside monitor in City's 1-0 win over Bournemouth later that same season.

The assessment of marginal offsides will now change this season. One-pixel lines will still be used in the working-out process, but this will no longer be broadcast.

"The final, thicker broadcast lines will be used, and when these thicker lines drawn for the attacker and defender overlap, the attacker will be deemed onside," said Riley, the general manager of Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL). 

"Effectively what we give back to the game is 20 goals that would have been disallowed last season by using quite forensic scrutiny.

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"So it's the toenails, the noses being given offside. They might have been given offside last season, next season they won't be."

In effect, there will have to be daylight between the lines for offside to be given.

Pukki's disallowed goal against Tottenham prompted this reaction from his club boss, Daniel Farke, at the time of the incident.

“When you watch it back without a line, you ask, one person would say it’s not offside, another would," he said.

“I can’t influence it, I have to accept it. Such decisions are not in the sense of the game.

“We want to support an offensive game, we want to support attacking players so if there is doubt we have to give it to the attacking player.

“I can’t influence it, it is wasted energy. Mentally I am prepared that no VAR decision will go in our favour this season – that is the way I am feeling." 

In addition for the upcoming Premier League season assistant referees have now been given greater scope to flag for clear offsides immediately, rather than delay in case they are wrong.

Riley also said the bar for awarding fouls and spot-kicks for lower-body contact will be raised, following feedback from players, coaches and chief executives gathered in a March survey.

On-field officials and VARs will be told to establish clear contact, whether it has a consequence, and whether an attacking player has tried to use that contact to win a penalty.

It is understood challenges such as the ones on England's Raheem Sterling in the Euro 2020 matches against Scotland and Denmark, for example, would not be given under the Premier League approach, and that a Premier League VAR would have intervened to overturn the spot-kick England were awarded in the semi-final against Denmark.

"It's not sufficient just to say 'yes, there was contact'," he said. "Contact on its own is only part of what referees should look for. If you've got clear contact that has a consequence, then that's what you have got to penalise."

While the change of emphasis should mean that attackers who initiate or exaggerate contact will not be rewarded, referees will be on the look out to award penalties where there is clear, meaningful contact but players stay on their feet.

"That should always be the case, otherwise the balance is unequal," added Riley, quoted by PA.

The likely result of this change will be a drop in the number of penalties awarded. There were 125 given last season, 92 in 2019/20, 103 in 2018/19 and 80 in 2017/18.

In other developments, former Premier League official Lee Mason will become the league's dedicated VAR.

The broadcasting of VAR communication with the referee, either to supporters inside a stadium or watching on television, remains banned by Fifa.

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