A trial that is becoming a VARce
I was broadly in favour of the introduction of VAR. Not to examine the minutiae of the sport and tinker with what helps to make it special, but to eliminate those howler decisions. Reversing the calls that everyone watching at home could see within ten seconds were a blatant injustice seemed a natural step when everything matters so much more. The handball on the line, the mistaken identity red card, the punch off the ball missed by referees and their assistants.
The general manager of Professional Game Match Officials Ltd, Mike Riley, agreed.
“It’s about saying, ‘Have the on-field refereeing team made a clear and obvious error?’ That’s the only question the VARs should ask,” he said. “If the answer to that is yes, then you need to communicate with the referee. If the answer to that is no, then you keep you out of it by letting the referee’s decision stand.”
If that intention hadn’t already been trampled upon before Juan Mata’s goal against Huddersfield Town was disallowed, it has now. Even if we overlook the abysmal wonky lines drawn at the incorrect angle across the pitch by the VAR, the call was a marginal one. Perhaps the decision eventually made was correct, Mata’s kneecap straying beyond the line when the ball was played. But this was never the intention of VAR.
If the idea was that the introduction of technology would ease controversy and avoid the post-match investigation into refereeing, the opposite has occurred. If the intention of the trial was to prove that VAR is something that English football must shun, it has worked perfectly. It has caused nothing but farce.
West Brom careering into further crisis
You can understand Alan Pardew’s reasoning. It would have been far easier if the West Brom players being investigated for stealing a taxi in Barcelona had been fringe squad members, castigated from the first-team picture to send a message to the rest of the squad that indiscipline will not be tolerated at a time of crisis.
The fact that the guilty four were all amongst West Brom’s most senior players made that decision far more difficult. Pardew either condemned them to the stands as punishment and damaged the quality of the team, or allowed them to play and hoped that their shame would propel them on to perform better and help West Brom address this wretched run of form.
In the end, they did neither. West Brom created more chances than Southampton and had more than double their number of shots on target, but goals in each half condemned them to defeat again. Gareth Barry and Jonny Evans, both picked for the game despite the controversy hanging over them, were given a mixed reception by supporters.
A new manager struggling to change the mood. A chief executive and chairman sacked in midweek. Senior players breaking curfews and courting trouble. A run of form on the pitch that is increasingly likely to end in relegation. West Brom are a club careering into crisis.
Abraham struggling to keep his head above water
In the middle of a drought that has brought just two goals (against League Two opposition) in 17 games, November suddenly feels an awfully long time ago for Tammy Abraham.
Back then, the striker was making his England debut against Germany at Wembley having scored five times for Swansea City. Questions were asked of Chelsea as to why they had allowed such an obvious Plan B to leave the club, potentially souring their relationship with Abraham.
Now, nobody is questioning Chelsea. It is inevitable that young players will have setbacks, stumbles and crises of confidence, and Abraham should not lose faith in his ability to be an exceptional Premier League striker. But the next three months are a challenge for him to re-find his form before returning to his parent club.
Giroud’s fortunes have been transformed
From the back-up striker for the team in sixth and in the Europa League to the first-choice centre-forward for a club in the top four and Champions League? Alvaro Morata might argue an element of that latter assessment, but possession is nine-tenths of the law. Olivier Giroud hasn’t put a foot wrong since joining Chelsea.
Eden Hazard has been complimentary of his talents, Antonio Conte was always an admirer and, on Friday evening, Willian and Pedro used Giroud as the perfect pivot. He is the still point in Chelsea’s fluid front four, around which a band of attacking midfielders and wide forwards can delight. Giroud is also playing as well as Morata has all season. That place in France’s World Cup squad is looking more secure by the week.
As the club’s record signing, Morata will consider it an affront if he is regularly left on the bench. But with Conte likely leaving Chelsea this summer, he has less loyalty to key players than is customary. The Italian has a big decision to make ahead of Barcelona on Tuesday.
Locadia will hope to be Brighton’s saviour
It’s hardly rocket science to say that teams relegated from the Premier League either fail to score enough goals or concede too many, but those promoted from the Championship usually fall into the first camp. Last season, Burnley, Hull and Middlesbrough were ranked 17th, 18th and 20th for goals scored. This season, Huddersfield, Brighton and Newcastle are ranked 15th, 16th and 17th.
Brighton are the team in 17th on that list, and Chris Hughton knew that adding a goalscorer to a frontline of Glenn Murray and Tomer Hemed was crucial. Hughton will hope that Jurgen Locadia’s debut goal, albeit against League Two opposition, is the sign of things to come over the next three months.