Johnny Nicholson: VAR remains an abomination and an absolute curse

Johnny Nicholson: VAR remains an abomination and an absolute curse

Referee Jon Moss (second left) awards a penalty to Manchester City during the Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium. Picture: Richard Sellers

The FA must mandate that all players and managers are fully vaccinated

Leicester City had seven players out with Covid this weekend but the game went ahead, which begs the question how many infected players must Spurs have, since their game was called off. If it is seven or fewer, the Foxes might want a word.

QPR’s game is already off. WBA had four Covid victims but their match went ahead. Manchester United are reporting that several of their players have tested positive. We need regulations, structure, and planning to deal with the virus.

Many players are unvaccinated and are at far higher risk of not being available and of infecting others. Presumably, they will want to be paid for being off sick, even though their actions have directly caused their plight. That doesn’t seem right. Clubs should give their staff a vaccine mandate, if you don’t take the three jabs, you don’t play, you don’t get paid. If they want to sue, let them. Club lawyers can easily argue that by not getting vaccinated they are wilfully making themselves unavailable and as such it is they who are in breach of contract.

The second half of the season, given the speed of the spread of Omicron, stands on the verge of becoming a chaotic mess of endless cancelled fixtures. Just hoping for the best is no longer good enough, the authorities need a disaster plan and players cannot be allowed to be unjabbed. It is, after all, for their own good and everyone else’s.

What has Eddie Howe been doing all week?

There has been no new manager bounce for Eddie Howe. He talks a good game but his team plays an appalling game. They usually start quite well and were initially bright against Leicester City, but this soon faded. Their second half was as poor as any team has played all season. They do everything badly. They were second to everything, slow-witted, slow in the challenge, absolutely no creative ideas and defensively hapless. They looked uncoached. Leicester just passed it around them, ripped them apart and ran up an easy 4-0 win.

In January, they will try and spend their blood money, but even mediocre players will cost a fortune in fees and wages because clubs will take them for a ride, knowing their wealth. Is Howe even good enough to take advantage of new players? If he’d prepared his side for the game on Sunday, it was not apparent. With games against Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United to come next, they will go into the New Year like a battered and punch drunk boxer.

A late sting from the Bees

Last week Brentford lost to a last-minute Leeds United goal, this Friday they won with a last-minute penalty. Such are the ups and downs of football. Throughout Brentford’s game against Watford, the Bees seemed to be running through treacle, desperately trying to regain their early season form, but failing to do so, going in one down at half-time. To their credit, they never stopped working, despite few signs that their industry would produce any rewards until Pontus Jansson’s 84th-minute goal.

Even then, a draw seemed likely until the last gasp penalty decision. The three points ground out here takes Brentford to 20, possibly just four wins from safety, with 22 matches yet to play. And all this with Ivan Toney sidelined. Remarkable.

VAR still making game worse and still getting it wrong

Manchester City were handed a win and Wolves were inexplicably denied a point by absolutely rubbish officiating. What is the point of VAR? To get decisions correct, that’s the whole reason it exists.

The decision to give a penalty to City for a handball against Joao Moutinho was simply wrong. Just wrong. It hit his side and then his arm. So why didn’t VAR rule out a penalty? Here’s why. Because Jon Moss calling a penalty in the first place wasn’t a clear and obvious error, so they decided not to overturn it or even send Moss to the monitor, even though it was wrong. Don’t try and make sense of that logic. Absolutely pathetic.

Every week there are several useless or mystifying VAR calls. The anger against VAR has died away, but if it was abolished today who would really protest? It remains an abomination and an absolute curse.

The power of the penalty

Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City, and Manchester United all won their games with a penalty. Some will say that the top sides always get the rub of the green when it comes to penalties, but it is an assumption that is hard to turn into a hard fact.

The best sides tend to put the most pressure on the opposition in the box and have great players who can tempt players into mistakes. Tyrone Mings’ challenge on Mo Salah was a classic of the genre. Clumsy more than malicious, Salah all but forced him into the mistake. He would’ve had to let him in on goal otherwise.

Similarly, Chelsea’s two penalties were clearcut offences. United’s was a bit soft but almost every official would’ve given it and City might have benefited from a poor decision, but they had at least one, possibly two, other penalties not given that were infringements. There may well be bias towards the best clubs, but they’re not the best for no reason.

Saints’ unwanted new record

The Saints shipped three goals at the Emirates against a far from free-flowing Arsenal. With only three wins this season and none in the last five including a loss to bottom side Norwich, something has to change quickly now.

They are the third lowest scorers in the league and desperately need a source of goals. But even if you can find such a striker, does he really want to go to Southampton in January? They’re a strange side who are sometimes rated better than they really are, possibly because of Ralph Hassenhutl’s status as a well-regarded manager.

In reality they are a south coast Burnley, and not in a good way. In 20201, they have shipped 50 goals away from home, a Premier League record. That is dreadful.

Ings nearly changes things

When Steven Gerrard brought Danny Ings on at Anfield, it almost changed the game. The ball began to stick up front more and Aston Villa had a little bit of a threat in a game where they had been smothered and given the runaround by an unusually goal-shy Liverpool. Admittedly, by this point the Reds should’ve been four or five up, but given they were not, it was a bold move by Gerrard who is starting to develop a reputation for making changes that affect games.

Villa had a decent call for a penalty against Alisson when he brought down Ings, which certainly fell in the “I’ve seen them given” category. That would’ve robbed Liverpool of a deserved win but these are the fine lines between success and failure.

Joe Gelhardt nearly gets Leeds a deserved point

Leeds United’s fantastic prospect, the 19-year-old striker Joe Gelhardt, netted his first Premier League goal at Stamford Bridge in a great but ultimately fruitless second-half performance by the Yorkshiremen.

He was an 82nd-minute substitute and scored almost immediately. Although they are 14th, they are easily the best side in the lower half of the table but are still without several key players through injury. The spine of the team was not available with Kalvin Phillips, Patrick Bamford, and Liam Cooper all out.

There is obviously a substantial run of wins in this side when they get their important players back. A team so lowly placed rarely plays as well as Leeds regularly do. They have been 1- 0 up against six teams and won none of those games. Their position is an anomaly, not that it will be a comfort to Marcelo Bielsa.

Are Arsenal trying to get rid of Aubameyang in January?

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was not included in Arsenal’s squad because Mikel Arteta was punishing him for a breach of discipline, after he apparently arrived late back from a sanctioned trip. This is not the first time. He has form for bad timekeeping.

Thomas Tuchel, who managed him at Dortmund, says they’d tell him a meeting was at 10.45 when it was really at 11 to try and get him there on time. Given he isn’t consistently much good anymore, and given he earns an astonishing £350,000 per week and will do so until 2023, would it be too cynical to think his manager is doing all he can to get him out of the club in January if at all possible?

A team with so many great young players doesn’t need dragging down by such an awful attitude. Imagine how much better that money could be spent rather than throwing a 32-year-old multi-multimillionaire another £1.4m every month. It should make their fans doubt the sanity of whoever offered him this lunatic contract because, to be frank, no-one will take this old, giant money pit, as much as the club wishes someone would.

Another win and another clean sheet for Man United

It is probably a fair assumption to think that many of Manchester United’s fans would have expected to beat Norwich handsomely whoever the manager and not to scrape by with a 75th-minute penalty. Norwich deserved a draw. It is a sign of how difficult it is to transform a side quickly, even when you have a big squad and some brilliant players at your disposal, that Ralf Rangnick hasn’t yet made much of a difference to performances or results.

United do look tighter defensively but the transitions into attack do not seem to be functioning properly yet. Will there be a moment when a new system all clicks together and we can point to it and say it is the Rangnick revolution in action? The man himself is talking of it taking five or six weeks to get players fit enough to raise the intensity to the level he wants.

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