For most fans of “the beautiful game,” the introduction of VAR (Video Assistant Referee) last season in the EPL was something of a disaster. Result-changing decisions hinging on the minutiae of forensic examination left fans exasperated. Good goals being rules offside because a player’s arm (as was the case with Patrick Mabford disallowed goal against Crystal Palace) or nose was in an offside position were ludicrous.
This season, EPL VARs are using “thicker lines” to prevent such silly decisions. It is all part of their strategy to give the benefit of the doubt back to attacking sides. It is in response to the feedback the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) received from Premiership clubs in a survey at the end of last season.
The IFAB (International Football Association Board) doesn’t specify any particular thickness to lines under football rules.
It means that it should stop offsides being awarded because a player’s toe was deemed offside. After all, it crossed the thin lines used in VAR playback analysis last season. It’s a change that all soccer fans will appreciate. The PGMOL hopes that this will encourage players to be more adventurous and express themselves, promoting flow back into the game.
VAR teams won’t intervene with trivial offences as the threshold for intervention will be raised higher. The Board believes the thicker lines will give the EPL back 20 goals this season than last season would have been ruled offside.
In another change, referees will now be instructed not to give the type of penalty awarded to England’s Raheem Sterling in the 2-1 win over Denmark in the semi-final of Euro 2020 – an incident where there was very little physical contact.
According to Mike Riley, chief of refereeing of the PGMOL, contact on its own is only a part of the overall picture that referees must take into consideration. Riley went on to say that referees must also consider what the consequences of the contact were and whether the “fouled” player used such minimal contact to try and gain a free kick or penalty.
There were 135 penalties awarded in the EPL last season, in what was the highest-scoring season so far in the EPL’s history. This sort of rule change could have a significant effect on what would now stand. Not only would the change affect a team’s goal tally and the result of some games, but it would also affect a player’s goal tally. In last season’s EPL top goal scorers list, Bruno Fernandez, who was the third-highest scorer with 18 goals, scored 9 penalties. Mo Salah was second with 22 goals, 6 of which were penalties. Harry Kane won the golden boot with 23 goals, only 4 of which were penalties, which perhaps reinforces his claim as one of the top strikers in the world in open play.