Local Liverpool paper attacks referee decision making: are we getting somewhere at last?




By Tony Attwood

A Liverpool newspaper recently made the comment: Liverpool would be top of the Premier League table if VAR wasn’t in place.

To back this up they cited a study from ESPN, that the “Reds” would be five points better off and sit two points clear of Arsenal in second. And they continue, “this is without taking into account Luis Diaz‘s wrongly ruled-out goal against Tottenham Hotspur last month.”

Following the game at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, it was revealed that VAR mistakenly believed that the on-field decision had been to award the goal. This resulted in VAR Darren England, despite realising that Diaz was onside, relaying a message of ‘check complete’ and the goal being ruled out.

According to ESPN, “The biggest decision to go against them [Liverpool] came at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, when Curtis Jones was shown a red card in the 26th minute. The score was 0-0 at the time, with Liverpool’s recent form slightly better than Spurs’ and at that point in the game their xG was higher. With 11 players on the pitch, the VAR Effect gives Liverpool a 1-0 victory – a six-point swing on Tottenham.”

They also cite the disallowed Mo Salah goal against Chelsea on the opening day of the season, concluding that if that had been allowed Liverpool, already being 1-0 up “would have gone on to win the game instead of drawing.”

Now there are two problems here.  One is we don’t know from this how many points VAR has stolen from other clubs, nor how the VAR decisions affected the players’ response to the game.  VAR does not exist in a vacuum, although journalists generally consider that anything they look at exists entirely on its own.

But VAR decisions often affects the game.  A club that was pressing for a goal to win a game might get it via VAR and then drop back and defend deeper and deeper, and as a result the opposition could score.

And this really is the point.  All actions on the pitch affect subsequent actions.   Players can sulk and take the view that “we can’t win with this ref on the pitch”, or they can, like Arsenal against Chelsea recently, get one goal back and be utterly motivated to score again.  Chelsea were surprised by the Arsenal goal and so started pulling back and the entire psychology of the game changed.

Which brings us back to referees and VAR.   A decision that players think is wrong can motivate them, or can make them more apathetic.  It shouldn’t do, but it can do.

That is why professional football clubs employ psychologists.  Arsenal have Lucy Burdin for example.   (Sadly there are still some people who watch football matches who confuse a psychologist with a psychiatrist – but really I don’t think I can do anything about that.)

But let’s get back to the plot.  VAR gives a high dodgy decision to one side in a game.  How does the other team react?

One possibility is that they get deflated, thinking and perhaps saying, “What can you do against a ref and VAR operator like this?”  That depressive thought reduces the player’s effectiveness and the chance of a recovery is reduced.

Another possibility is that the psychologist has worked with the team saying, “Right this ref is clearly a Tottenham [or choose any other club] supporter, so you are not going to get anything out of him.  And you are going to get dodgy decisions against you.   Now you can either shrink away from that and give up, or you can decide to beat not just the opposition XI but the ref as well.  That’s going to mean an extra 20% effort from you.  Now this is how you do it…”

I firmly believe this is what happened at Arsenal in 2019/20 when the club got 86 yellows and had no less than nine players get over five yellows.  The following season the total not only came down to 47; a drop to around half the earlier number.  This time only five players got five or more yellow.  Artteta changed the players’ attitudes.

This next table shows how Arsenal has moved itself to the Manchester City model.  It is not a smooth movement because players are injured, new players take a while to adjust and so on, and of course injuries can get in the way of progress.   But the table shows two things

First, both teams have cut their yellow cards level across these four seasons – Arsenal by more than double that of Manchester City

Second both teams have increased their possession levels across the four seasons.  Arsenal by more than double that of Manchester City

Third both clubs have cut their tackling across the four seasons, but here it is Manchester City who have cut it more than twice as much as Arsenal.

We have often argued that Arteta is copying the Manchester City model, and once again these factors show this is true.  Of course, Manchester City are improving too, secure in their knowledge that they will come out of the 110 charges inquiry on top.  We shall see.


2019/20 Yellows Possession % Tackles
Manchester City 60 62.6 13.5
Arsenal 2019/20 86 (+26) 52.9  (-9.7) 15.4 (+1.9)
Manchester City 46 60.8 13.1
Arsenal 47 (+1) 52.7 (-8.1) 12.0 (-1.1)
Manchester City 42 68.2 13.1
Arsenal 60 (+18) 52.6 (-15.6) 14.2 (+1.1)
Manchester City 44 65.2 12.3
Arsenal 52 (+8) 59.7 (-5.5) 14.9 (+2.6)
Manchester City -16 +2.6 -1.2
Arsenal -34 +6.8 -0.5


The simple positive news is that Arsenal are getting closer and closer to the very successful Manchester City level of yellow cards, and possession percentage and tackles.   It is an interesting development and is undoubtedly part of a clear plan.

16 Replies to “Local Liverpool paper attacks referee decision making: are we getting somewhere at last?”

  1. The problem with this comment is, that you are not taking into consideration all the other wrong results that VAR have given out or not! Especially in the Arsenal games for instance!

  2. Paul

    You said:

    “The problem with this comment is, that you are not taking into consideration all the other wrong results that VAR have given out or not! Especially in the Arsenal games for instance!”

    Tony said above:

    “Now there are two problems here. One is we don’t know from this how many points VAR has stolen from other clubs”

    Perhaps you should re read it.

  3. Also it is interesting, if not altogether surprising that the recent media interest has been generated by Liverpool being penalised by wrong referee decisions.

    Arsenal have suffered from this phenomenon for the whole of this century (eg remember the 2001 FA cup final?) without any media response other than “it all evens out in the end” type.

  4. John L

    I thought same. In the same vein it had to be a Liverpool paper that picked up on it.

  5. Guys,

    We all agree that Arsenal have been hard done by PGMOL over decades. Yep. There is enough footage on youtube to prove it.

    Yet, as far as I am concerned, I’m all happy that others are picking up on the issue. PGMOL are an incompeten organisation and the more start talking about it, proving it, the closer we get to something changing.

    It was inevitable that at some point the incompetence hits other teams and I’m all happy it did. And, frankly, I’ve got this ‘schadenfreude’ wish to see others hurt by that incompetence.

    Presently, the interesting thing is that it has stopped being an ‘Arsenal-sore-losers’ issue to being recognised as a systemic problem. Just wait till City or Newcastle get on the receiving end of their incompetence and really lose points. Then it will get interesting.

    Then, the other issue at hand I believe is that the ‘Ferguson’ effect on all the incompetence at PGMOL has receded as less and less referees are part of these who came into the system when he was the guy able to get more minutes at the end of a game when he needed them.

  6. Chris

    The problem is, some of it is incompetence, and some of it is cheating. There is a difference. A big difference.

    For example:

    The Liverpool offside that wasn’t, was incompetence. They had looked. They had concluded it was onside. We heard all that. As bad as it was, all that went wrong was communication. They didn’t ‘deliberately’ cheat Liverpool out of a goal.

    There are obviously others that are just plain incompetence.

    But I believe some ‘mistakes’ are deliberate. That is cheating, or at the very least bias, subconscious or otherwise.

    For example, the Brentford goal that should of been disallowed against us.

    This is what was said at the time:

    “‘However, the truth is that VAR didn’t fully investigate with the lines. The lines, simply, didn’t go down. “And that counts as human error. Had the lines gone down the goal would have been disallowed for offside.”

    Calling it ‘Hunan Error’ is a cop out.

    I think it is very debatable whether you can ‘accidently’ not put the lines down? It’s the VAR’s job. It’s how they check for offside. It’s ALL ABOUT THE LINES ffs.

    So they’ve seen it’s a close call and just not bothered? Is that what they are asking us to believe? Really?

    Sorry I don’t believe it. It was a DELIBERATE CHOICE to not look closely at it, and hope nobody asked any questions.

    So yes, I do believe that was a deliberate act. And yes I do believe it was because it was Arsenal, either because of: A deliberate bias? A subconscious bias? Or they just felt it would be the ‘popular’ decision? I don’t know. Either way I think it was ‘deliberately’ not checked, and that is different to what happened to Liverpool.

    Okay, in a way I am glad it is being talked about a bit more, but it wont make the slightest difference, because the only reason it’s being talked about is because media darlings Liverpool have been affected, but I still don’t believe the media want anything to change. They still want the ‘biased’ mistakes that suit their agenda, they just don’t want the monumental cockups, that not only hurt their favourites, but make people look closer at this charade than they would like.

    At the end of the day there is a massive difference between genuine ‘incompetence’ and blatant ‘cheating’, it’s just difficult to tell which is which sometimes.

  7. April 2003: Bolton Wanderers 2 Arsenal 2 – the goals were legitimate, but Andy D’Urso allowed Bolton to kick Arsenal off the park. Literally.

    The result and the resulting injuries effectively ended Arsenal’s title challenge.

  8. seismic

    Was that the game where a Bolton player literally did a WWE through down on one of our players on the far side right by the touchline?

    I remember it so well because their fans watched in actual disbelief at what their player had done, then started laughing their heads off when the ref did nothing?

  9. Nitram the Brentford goal was not even marginal offside. Even watching it live I saw the assisting player came back from an offside position. I think it cost us the title… Not seeing that as a professional referee or assistant referee shows complete lack of competence or is pure bias

  10. Walter

    “Not seeing that as a professional referee or assistant referee shows complete lack of competence or is pure bias”

    You forgot cheating!!

    And therein lies the problem. The problem you, I, and everyone else has, is we cannot see inside the heads of these people. Did they deliberately cheat? Was it a genuine error? Only they know for sure. All we can do is make a judgement as best we can, which is what I did with the two examples above.

    In Liverpools case it was clearly an error in communication. It wasn’t even an error in the use of VAR. VAR saw it correctly, but mis communication meant the referee wasn’t told.

    Not putting the lines down wasn’t an error. It was a choice. The VAR team CHOSE not to put the lines down, despite that being the primary tool in deciding whether a player is on or off side. Why would they do that?

    Well as I say, we can only surmise as to why the VAR team CHOSE not to check properly.

    Was it because:

    1) They forgot? Well that’s like you or I forgetting to turn the ignition on if we want to drive our car. Yes, we could forget but what are the chances?

    2) The technology wasn’t working? Well, I believe that’s been ruled out.

    3) They was on the phone organising their next beano to the UAE, so missed it? Possible I suppose, but I suspect that’s already in the diary.

    4) It was Arsenal and they simply didn’t want to disallow the goal?

    Well I’m going for 4, and as ‘paranoid’ as some may say that is, I suggest out of all those possibilities it is by far the most plausible. If anyone disagrees don’t just say ‘you’re paranoid’, explain why I am, and more importantly, why 1, 2 or 3 is more likely, or indeed give me another reason I haven’t thought of.

    Yes, they are ridiculously incompetent, but I honestly believe they also cheat.

  11. Nitram, I agree.

    They cannot be incompetent on that scale, so there must be another explanation. I always felt that Dean was a competent referee and that his decisions were conscious choices and not human errors. He was on VAR when the Everton player, Gordon, stamped on Tomiyasu’s face when the ball was not in play. The incident was clearly shown on replays and there could not have been any doubt about what was so clearly visible.

    The result? Play on, no red card, no yellow card, not even a free-kick!

  12. Until referees are limited to two games per club per season as Tony has suggested, I’ll assume they are cheating.

  13. Nitram.

    Re: Bolton

    You have a good memory.

    The Cup Final 2 years earlier vs. Liverpool was the first time it occurred to me that something was seriously wrong in the world of English refereeing. Everyone in the stadium, and the TV audience saw Henchoz’ hand-ball. I gave the referee (Steve Dunn) the benefit of the doubt, because it was possible that he and his linesman could have been unsighted.

    The Bolton match in 2003 was so poorly refereed after we took a 2-0 lead, with so many obviously incorrect decisions being given in Bolton’s favour, that I stopped giving D’Urso the benefit of the doubt. I’m sure that Arsenal would have won the PL in 2002-2003 if that game had been refereed fairly.

  14. Mike Dean was the on-field referee when Ben Godfrey stamped on Tomiyasu’s face.

    Mike Dean is now employed by Sky Sports as their refereeing analyst. That should tell you everything you need to know.

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