Manchester United had a late first-half goal disallowed by the video assistant referee in its FA Cup fifth round match against Huddersfield on Saturday. The decision was incredibly tight, and could have gone either way. It probably can’t be criticized.
But the evidence seemingly used to justify the decision? It was incredibly problematic.
Minutes after the goal was overturned, TV pictures – which are controlled by a central broadcast operator and not individual networks – showed crooked, skewed lines overlaying replays of the goal. Many assumed they were supposed to represent a peek into the VAR control room.
— Craig N (@Nizzy_23) February 17, 2018
In England, BT Sport’s match commentators and halftime crew were equally befuddled.
— Mark Coles (@colesy7) February 17, 2018
One complaint adjacent to the actual use of VAR is that fans – both in the stadium and watching on TV – don’t have insight into what the video assistant is looking at or considering. The images shown during the United-Huddersfield broadcast were likely designed to address that concern. Instead, they did just the opposite.
Later, though, a corrected version of one of the images assuaged some concerns:
Below is a replay of the goal without the lines. Many fans believed it was onside in the immediate aftermath.
Should this goal have stood?
VAR ruled out Mata's goal for offside just before halftime. https://t.co/nMyg8PrVDp
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) February 17, 2018
But most TV replays dissecting the play seemed to be halted slightly after Ashley Young released the ball, rather than immediately when it left his foot. Other freeze-frames, from a split-second earlier, could be used to argue that Mata was offside.
That gray area is an argument against the use of VAR in this situation. When a player kicks a ball, it spends a certain amount of time in contact with his or her foot. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, for a video assistant referee, based on the camera angles available, to determine when exactly the ball leaves a player’s foot, and therefore whether or not another player is onside or offside.
Video review therefore probably shouldn’t be overturning a goal like Mata’s, where the decision is essentially based on inconclusive evidence. It is supposed to correct “clear and obvious errors.” Most offside decisions can be made clear by technology, so even tight ones can be changed. This was probably too tight.
That said, there’s nothing egregiously wrong with it. And VAR gets far more calls right than wrong. There are going to be glitches, and people are going to complain. That’s inevitable. But it will be a major improvement in the long run.
The crooked-line images are merely one of those glitches. Plus, we still don’t know what the issue with the etch-a-sketchy lines was, or who saw them. It could have been a TV error. There’s nothing to prove they factored into the video assistant’s decision.
And they certainly didn’t affect the outcome of the game. United won 2-0.
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