Breaking down the midweek VAR drama: Mac Allister foul, Liverpool goal, Arsenal penalty

Video Assistant Referee causes controversy every week in the Premier League, but how are decisions made, and are they correct?

This is a midweek look at the major incidents, examining and explaining the process both in terms of VAR protocol and the Laws of the Game.

- How VAR decisions have affected every Prem club in 2023-24- VAR in the Premier League: Ultimate guide

This week: A look back at possible penalty situations for Arsenal against Luton Town, plus a series of incidents in victories for Liverpool and Manchester United. Plus, should Brentford's Yoane Wissa have been sent off?

Possible red card: Souza challenge on Mac Allister

What happened: Alexis Mac Allister was fouled in the fifth minute, with Gustavo Hamer penalised for the trip. As the Argentina international fell to the ground, Sheffield United midfielder Vinicius Souza appeared to stand on him. Referee Simon Hooper took no action, but was there a case for a red card for serious foul play?

VAR decision: No red card.

Vinicius Souza stands on Alexis Mac Allister's knee. BBC

VAR review: There wasn't excessive force, so the VAR, Michael Oliver, has to consider if Souza has endangered the safety of an opponent.

It's complicated by Mac Allister going to ground as a result of the Hamer challenge, when Souza is putting his foot in to make a second challenge.

This doesn't look great from the replays, but in context the VAR was right to decide there was no stamp involved to warrant a red card.

Referee Hooper took no action against either player, and had he seen a replay he would surely have booked Souza -- but that isn't possible without a review at the monitor.

Possible foul: Van Dijk when scoring

What happened: Liverpool took the lead in the 37th minute when Virgil van Dijk was left free to sidefoot home from a corner routine, but did he commit a foul to open up the space for himself?

VAR decision: Goal stands.

VAR review: Sheffield United captain Anel Ahmedhodzic moves to make a run across the area when Van Dijk moved to his right. There's contact between the two players, Ahmedhodzic fell and this left the Liverpool player free inside the area.

It's a question of normal football contact or a foul by the Netherlands international, and there's no clear evidence it was a clear obvious error toward the latter.

Anel Ahmedhodzic goes to ground as Virgil van Dijk moves to make space in the area. BBC

Possible penalty: Konaté challenge on McAtee

What happened: Sheffield United thought they should have been given a penalty in the 87th minute when Ibrahima Konaté challenged James McAtee. Referee Hooper allowed play to continue.

VAR decision: No penalty.

Was Ibrahima Konaté's challenge on James McAtee enough for a penalty? BBC

VAR review: There is contact from Konaté, but it doesn't seem heavy enough to be a foul and it would have been a huge surprise if the VAR had got involved.

While there is thigh-on-thigh contact, the same had happened by McAtee on another Liverpool player seconds before.

If this is given as a spot kick, it's going to be by the referee and not via a VAR intervention.

Possible foul: Nunez in build up to Szoboszlai goal

What happened: Dominik Szoboszlai put the game to bed in the fourth minute of added time, but the goal came after Darwin Núñez won the ball with a strong challenge on Jayden Bogle and then provided the assist. Referee Hooper wasn't interested in a foul but it was checked by Oliver in the VAR hub.

VAR decision: Goal stands.

VAR review: Of all the incidents in the game, this is the most controversial -- and probably should have been disallowed on review.

Hooper and his assistant both have a clear view, but Nunez reaches through the back of Bogle. Nunez may get to the ball with his right foot, but there's clear contact on his opponent with the left leg. In the modern game this is usually deemed to be a foul.

Darwin Núñez appears to go through Jayden Bogle to win the ball. BBC

If Nunez had used his left leg to hook the ball away from Bogle, it would be a clean challenge. But Sheffield United can feel themselves unfortunate that this goal was allowed to count, even if it would have made no difference to the result.

Possible penalty: Osho shirt pull on Gabriel

What happened: In the 78th minute, Bukayo Saka played over a corner from the right which dropped inside the six-yard box and was cleared by the defence. However, Gabriel was on the ground claiming he had been pulled by Gabriel Osho as the ball came over. Play continued, but was there a case for a penalty?

VAR decision: No penalty.

The reverse angle makes Gabriel Osho's challenge on Gabriel look far worse. Amazon

VAR review: A video has been shared widely on social media that shows Osho pulling Gabriel's arm as the Arsenal player is about to head the ball. It looks damning, and there's a case for a spot kick. However, the reverse angle is not part of this video clip.

The move starts with Gabriel placing his hand on Osho's chest who is being moved backward toward goal, with the Luton player then holding Gabriel's arm.

Gabriel has hold of a chunk of Gabriel Osho's shirt, as well as the Luton player appears to be pulling down on the arm. Amazon

What happens next will split opinion, but there's no doubt that Gabriel is pulling down on Osho's shirt at the same time.

Some will feel Gabriel is only pulling Osho's shirt because his arm is being held.

Others may feel holding is taking place between both players, which means there will be no offence to constitute a penalty.

Gabriel is already pushing back on Gabriel Osho as the corner comes across. Amazon

For certain, that one angle doesn't paint the whole picture.

Nottingham Forest's claim for a VAR penalty against Everton on Saturday was far stronger than this.

Nottingham Forest's Ryan Yates has his shirt pulled back on a corner route. BBC

Possible penalty: Handball by Adebayo

What happened: Gabriel Martinelli played a corner over from the right in the 40th minute. Elijah Adebayo tried to head clear at the near post and the ball hit his own hand. Was there a case for a penalty?

VAR decision: No penalty.

Elijah Adebayo heads the ball onto his own arm. Amazon

VAR review: There's an exemption against handball when a player heads the ball against their own arm, whatever position it's in, so there's no possibility of a penalty.

Possible penalty: Townsend on Kiwior

What happened: In the 52nd minute, Andros Townsend challenged Jakub Kiwior for a 50-50 ball on the edge of the area. At first it was thought there was a possible penalty for a foul by Townsend, when it fact there was a possible red-card check against the Arsenal player. Kiwior got the first touch on the ball, but then caught Townsend on his shin.

VAR decision: No penalty or red card.

There was a greater case for a red card for Jakub Kiwior than a penalty against Andros Townsend. Amazon

VAR review: The VAR check on this was actually for a penalty for a possible foul by Townsend on Kiwior, with the Arsenal player going over on the edge of the area.

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However, upon looking at the spot kick the VAR could have changed to a penalty check for the secondary contact by Kiwior on Townsend -- which was actually the stronger case.

While Kiwior did fall over Townsend with his left leg, it's what happened with the Arsenal player's right foot that could raise questions of a possible red card.

After kicking the ball, Kiwior's foot makes contact with the shin of the Luton Town midfielder. The freeze-frame image on Kiwior makes it look like a horror challenge, and fans have compared it to red cards shown to Cristian Romero and Curtis Jones earlier this season. But that really wasn't the case.

Cristian Romero was sent off for going into a challenge with excessive force. NBC

The Romero image may look the same, but he was going into a tackle with force. For Kiwior, his foot makes some contact with Townsend, but with little to no force, as a consequence of his follow through.

In the 2020-21 season, West Ham United's Fabián Balbuena was sent off on VAR review after making high contact on Chelsea's Ben Chilwell after making a clearance. That red card was rescinded on appeal, and this situation is similar in nature.

Possible penalty: Osho challenge on Saka

What happened: Play continued after the first incident with Martin Ødegaard feeding a pass through to Saka, who in turn shifted the ball left to Leandro Trossard. Saka collided with Osho, and play continued with Declan Rice's shot deflected wide for a corner. Arsenal players' appeals for a penalty were rejected by the referee.

VAR decision: No penalty.

Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Osho was a collision rather than a foul challenge. Julian Finney/Getty Images

VAR review: This is a coming together of two players after Saka has released the ball, with no prospect of a VAR intervention.

Possible penalty: Fernández foul on Antony

What happened: In the ninth minute, Antony had the ball inside the area and tried to move across to create space before prodding it toward Alejandro Garnacho. Enzo Fernández came in to make a challenge, was slightly late and caught Antony. Referee Chris Kavanagh didn't see it as a foul and allowed play to continue, and a check was made by the VAR, David Coote.

VAR decision: Penalty, Bruno Fernandes' effort saved by Robert Sánchez.

VAR review: While not all contact should lead to a penalty, that's more about the clip of a boot.

Fernández was unfortunate, and it may not look the clearest penalty in nature, but full contact on the top of the boot is always likely to lead to a VAR review for a spot kick.

This was the 12th penalty to be awarded through a VAR decision this season, and the first one that's been missed.

Enzo Fernández stands on Antony's foot, leading to a VAR penalty. BBC

Possible offside: Højlund on McTominay goal

What happened: Manchester United did take the lead in the 19th minute when Scott McTominay fired home from inside the area, but Rasmus Højlund was in an offside position on the line.

VAR decision: Goal stands.

VAR review: While there's no doubt that Højlund was offside, he didn't touch the ball so would need to impact an opponent to become active -- and in this situation that could only be the goalkeeper.

Højlund is always behind Sanchez, the striker isn't close to him and the ball is past the keeper before it goes toward the United No. 11. Therefore, there can be no effect on Sanchez.

That Højlund was off the pitch when McTominay struck the shot would be of no consequence, as any player behind the goal line is considered to be on the line. If Højlund had stepped back onto the pitch and then had an impact upon an opponent, the goal would be ruled out.

Rasmus Højlund was not impacting upon the play for Scott McTominay's goal. BBC

Possible penalty: Foul by Lindelöf on Sterling

What happened: Raheem Sterling checked back inside the area in the 25th minute and went to ground, with the forward asking for a penalty for a foul by Victor Lindelöf. A check began straight away.

VAR decision: No penalty.

Raheem Sterling was fortunate not to be cautioned for simulation. BBC

VAR review: There is no evidence of any contact whatsoever by Lindelöf on Sterling, and it appears to be a clear case of simulation.

It situations like this, there's an argument that VAR should be able to intervene on yellow cards for attempting to deceive the referee.

Possible penalty: Handball by Colwill

What happened: Luke Shaw had a shot on goal in the 61st minute, and the ball hit Levi Colwill. United players and fans appealed for a penalty for handball in unison, but the referee wasn't interested. Again, a check began.

VAR decision: No penalty.

Levi Colwill has his arm close to his body. BBC

VAR review: Colwill had his arm close to his body, it wasn't extended out to create a barrier, and the VAR was right not to get involved in this.

Possible red card: Wissa violent conduct on Gilmour

What happened: Yoane Wissa was booked by referee Peter Bankes in the 76th minute after he caught Billy Gilmour in the face with his hand. The VAR, Andy Madley, considered a possible red card.

VAR decision: No red card.

VAR review: On first view it seems a wonder how Wissa's card wasn't upgraded to a red by the VAR, but when you look closer at the specifics of the case it becomes clear.

The violent conduct law says a player who "deliberately strikes an opponent or any other person on the head or face with the hand or arm, is guilty of violent conduct unless the force used was negligible."

Gilmour holds onto the ball to prevent the restart of play, for which he too would receive a caution. In trying to get the ball back, Wissa makes an attempt to knock it out of the Brighton & Hove Albion player's arm by bringing his hand down. In the process, Wissa inadvertently brushes the face of Gilmour with his fingers.

Wissa isn't attempting to deliberately strike Gilmour in the face, nor is there force involved, so the VAR was right not to intervene in this accidental situation.

Yoane Wissa catches the face of Billy Gilmour with his fingers. BBC

Possible goal: Ball in play

What happened: Aston Villa had the ball in the back of the net in first-half stoppage time though Douglas Luiz, but the assistant raised his flag for the ball being out of play (watch here).

VAR decision: No goal.

The ball was clearly out of play for Aston Villa's disallowed goal. Premier League

VAR review: It gives us another example of how the ball being in view on the goal-line camera makes it very easy for the VAR to make a decision -- unlike in the controversial Newcastle United vs. Arsenal incident when the ball was near to the corner flag.

This case wasn't even a close one by comparison, with a clear gap between the ball and the goal line.

It was far closer when Højlund had a goal disallowed for Man United against Brighton when Marcus Rashford failed to keep the ball in.

Some parts of this article include information provided by the Premier League and PGMOL.


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