With VAR seeming to be the most controversial topic in football right now (well, apart from #spymoralhighgroundgate and football managers giving sixty-six minute Powerpoint presentations to journalists), could it change the way the game is played?
Marginal gains are all important in sport right now. We only have to look at Formula 1, cycling, athletics and in fact most professional sports to see how all important it is to make sure all of those stones that are talked about by athletes to football managers, are unturned.
For me, The World Cup has to be the place to start when looking into the influence of VAR on our beautiful game.
Due to VAR intervention, there was an increase in the number of penalties given in the World Cup from corners for holding in the box that may not have been given without its introduction. At the halfway point, sixteen spot-kicks were awarded; twice as many as usual for the first thirty two games of the tournament. In total, 29 spot-kicks were awarded, 11 from VAR reviews. If a team’s chances of getting a penalty are boosted with an increase in the number of corners gained, then surely winning one will now have an added value?
How can you improve the number of corners awarded to a team per game? Could wide players who hug the touchline become even more important? Attacking players who attempt to cross into the box try to at least win their side a corner; if they can’t and with the new added value on a corner kick, it’s even more important to make sure that a team now doesn’t concede too many.
At throw-ins, could the attacking team increase their tally of corners won in a game by continually throwing towards the goal line? Attacking players could run in behind the defenders more frequently as they do now: you cannot be offside from a throw-in so could it possibly lead to more throw-ins directed towards the corner flag? Could an attacking player, when realising their path to goal is blocked or they are outnumbered have even more interest in winning a corner now?
As so eloquently illustrated in the must read “The Mixer” by Michael Cox, the back-pass rule introduced to speed up the game in 1992, that no longer allowed goalkeepers to pick up the ball when it was kicked to them, changed the way the game was played. At times, defenders had to drop deeper to help their goalkeeper and forwards started to chase down goalkeepers when they hadn’t done before, which led to more space in midfield from one goal to another. It’s why we rarely see box-to-box midfielders nowadays and specialist defensive and attacking midfielders have become the trend in the modern game. It’s also why it’s vitally important nowadays to have a goalkeeper who is good with their feet and can calmly pass the ball out of defence.
If we were to say that teams would play wider in order to increase the number of corners won, would more space be created left to right on the field? Might it lead to more players being deployed left to right in midfield or even full backs playing even higher than they do already? Formation changes perhaps?
I’ve only touched on corners. After the first week of the World Cup, 21 of the 38 goals scored came from set-pieces. 43% of all goals scored at the World Cup came from set-pieces, the highest since 1966.
VAR was introduced to assist the referee and to stamp out the obvious mistakes of which we have seen plenty throughout the years.
Pundits and fans alike still disagree about the offside decision given after a two minute VAR consultation in Derby County’s win over Southampton in their third-round replay in the FA Cup. In a recent Eredivisie game between Vitesse Arnhem and Heerenveen, the visitors seemed to have sealed a 3-1 win with a strike in added time. The referee called play back when the VAR team alerted him to a foul by a Heerenveen defender area 20 seconds earlier. He awarded Vitesse a penalty, which was converted to make the final score 2-2.
The debate surrounding VAR and the decisions it makes will never end but one thing is for sure: VAR will change the way football is played in ways that we can only imagine right now.
- Photo by FIFA.com