The irritating thing about officiating is that it’s often perceived to have disrupted what was otherwise a “good” game. Of course, the definition of what comprises a good game is based on many factors: which team you favor, what the result was, whether you favor offense or defense, how much contact you think should be acceptable in football, etc. If the official has “let the game flow”, as Felix Brych did for the first half, they’re often congratulated for having been invisible, outside of the several “obvious” calls that “should” have been made. But then you come to that crux point, that moment, where the official does make a call that seems questionable to at least half the audience and one thinks to oneself: “That’s OK. This is what VAR was created for: so we can confirm if the official was right.”
So much for that, amirite?! The irritating thing about VAR’s implementation is the “clear and obvious error” standard. That phrase in itself is subjective. Who defines what is a “clear and obvious error”? For me, multiple angles of a player beginning to dive before contact is made (in essence, throwing himself into Robertson’s leg so that there is contact) is a pretty stark error if the lead official has decided to call a penalty there. It doesn’t matter if it’s late in the game (as it was.) Nor does it matter if it’s a 0-0 game (as it was.) The only things that matter are the rules of the game. Did Robertson make contact that impeded the progress of the attacker?
99% of the time in these cases, I’m on the side of the attacker. I think they do take too much contact in the box. I think the officials do miss too many of the shirt pulls and the taps to the feet and the hip checks. I’m fine with forwards going down in the box because of all these things, because that’s often the only way they get calls… but only if there’s actual contact! Has Salah gone down easy in the box before? He sure as hell has. From my perspective, it makes up for all the times that he should have been given a penalty and didn’t receive one, even if he powers through into an attack that fails. Like he did tonight, for example, in the first half, when a shirt pull delayed an attack in the box just long enough for Koulibaly to get in front of him. What I’m not fine with is diving to draw the call when no one has so much as laid a finger on you. This is what Callejon did. This is what Brych missed. This is what VAR should have corrected, but didn’t, presumably because it somehow wasn’t “clear and obvious”.
Reffing conspiracies have probably existed as long as athletic competition has. Most fans tend to believe at some level that the officials are out to “get” their team or that they get stuck with the least competent officials by design or that, conversely, certain other teams are favored in that respect. I was laughing a few weeks ago when the Man City fans had started in with their assertions about how they were alone against everyone else when VAR reversed their winning goal against Tottenham. Because, y’know, clearly the EPL would stand to gain from screwing their two-time defending champion which plays one of the more attractive styles of football in the world. Come to think of it, how did the EPL fail so spectacularly in preventing them from winning the league for the last two years?
Officials are human, just like anyone else. They make mistakes. It’s become more and more difficult for them to keep up with the ever faster, ever more skillful players as the game has developed. It’s become even more difficult for them to attempt to remain above reproach as technology has improved and potentially puts those mistakes on display for all to clearly see within seconds of the events having taken place. Asking them to be perfect is a fool’s errand. This is the strongest argument for VAR. It’s not shaming refs. It’s trying to help them. This was never more firmly on display than in the 2018 World Cup, where officials routinely ran to the sideline to check what happened and regularly overturned calls. The system worked fine. Everyone should have been happy. Club football, which is even more impacted by inaccuracies than international play, given the millions of dollars/Euros/pounds at stake on the outcome affected by those inaccuracies, should be able to implement a system that’s every bit as forgiving and redundant. Fans shouldn’t hold officials to an impossible standard. But neither should their respective leagues or UEFA. They should let VAR crews bring calls into question and suggest that the officials actually look at what the fans are seeing. They’re only going to build greater officiating conspiracies by essentially asking fans who they’re going to believe: the official or their lying eyes?
The game was actually pretty good. It was a very evenly contested, back-and-forth affair which was pretty thrilling to watch. In fact, it’s exactly the kind of game that most football aficionados would point to as almost ideal and most Americans would dismiss because “there’s not enough scoring!” (Sorry. I had a typical American behind me at a tailgate a couple weeks ago.) LFC’s performance was vastly improved over their somnolent approach to the last game in Naples. There was good ball movement:
We were on 85% passing for the game (so was Napoli) and we continued an interesting tactical decision to stick with the full-time 4-3-3, even on defense, like we did against Newcastle. I say “interesting” because Napoli’s attack is about 100x the threat that the Maggies’ is and they showed it in various moments tonight. This was one of them:
Yeah, man. Anyone complaining about the absence of Alisson has my permission to pour themselves a nice, big cup of Shut the Fuck Up. I want the big man back, too; not least for the accuracy of his long passes. But Adrián has been everything we could ask for from a backup.
I was pretty sure that, once Carlo pulled Insigne and Lozano, he was shutting it down with that famous 4-4-2 of his and taking the draw. Zielinski is good, but he ain’t no Insigne and that left side, targeting Trent, was where most of their thrust was coming from. I think that was more a response to Insigne’s predilection to constantly get forward than it is any statement on Trent. Of course, that’s also the side where Hendo goes forward while Milner is more prone to cover Robertson on the left. Ancelotti would, of course, know this. Regardless, Fabinho was covering everything and it didn’t turn into a problem.
And, of course, in the end, all this doesn’t really matter. It’s the first group game and by far the hardest. Salzburg looks better than expected (they absolutely demolished Genk tonight), but neither they nor the Belgians should be any serious threat and we can handle Napoli at Anfield. Of course, that’s what we thought before going to Red Star last year. Stamford Bridge and the Fightin’ Lampposts on Sunday.
But, seriously… Really?