LONDON, United Kingdom, Feb 23 – VAR was firmly back in the spotlight in the Premier League this weekend as Manchester United and Arsenal showed signs they are finding form as the race for Champions League places heats up.
Just 10 points separate fourth-placed Chelsea from Southampton in 12th spot, with most of the pretenders for the European places picking up wins.
AFP Sport looks at three things we learned from the weekend’s Premier League action.
VAR ‘risks ruining’ football
Frank Lampard was furious after Tottenham midfielder Giovani Lo Celso stayed on the pitch despite a “leg-breaker” stamp on Cesar Azpilicueta in his side’s 2-1 win over Spurs.
A VAR review concluded the challenge was not serious foul play, which would have triggered a dismissal, but replays made it clear that was the wrong call.
According to BT Sport, officials at the VAR hub in London later admitted the decision was wrong and former Premier League referee Keith Hackett took to Twitter to demand those responsible for VAR decisions “update” themselves on the laws of the game.
Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe admitted his side “fell apart a little bit mentally” after being denied an equaliser and simultaneously having a penalty awarded against them by VAR in their 3-0 loss to Burnley.
And Leicester felt they had two penalty claims in their 1-0 defeat by Manchester City — once when City goalkeeper Ederson came flying out and clattered Kelechi Iheanacho and then when a free-kick hit Kevin De Bruyne’s hands inside the box.
The Foxes’ mood darkened when the visitors were awarded a spot kick for a handball by Dennis Praet, though Sergio Aguero’s effort was saved by Kasper Schmeichel.
VAR is making its debut in the Premier League this season but fans have become frustrated by inconsistencies and the time it takes to make decisions.
Former Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, Kasper’s father, tweeted: “If we don’t get rid of this ridiculous system and quick, it will ruin football forever.”
Champions League battle
With the Premier League title almost certainly heading to Liverpool, who host West Ham on Monday, the focus has shifted to the battle for the Champions League spots.
Manchester City, in second place, look unlikely to be dislodged from the top four and third-placed Leicester still have a healthy six-point lead over Chelsea despite a recent wobble.
But as it stands, fifth place could be enough to earn a Champions League spot because City have been banned from Europe’s elite competition for two seasons, pending an appeal.
Manchester United and Arsenal appear to be hitting their stride while Sheffield United and Wolves will fancy their chances of gatecrashing Europe’s elite club competition.
New Manchester United signing Bruno Fernandes, who scored his first goal for United in their 3-0 win against Watford, knows his task at Old Trafford.
“Everyone knows we want to get into the Champions League places. I am here to help the team conquer this place and keep winning games,” he told the BBC.
Aubameyang on fire
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang joined Leicester’s Jamie Vardy at the top of the Premier League goalscoring charts after his two goals against Everton.
The Gabon international, who shared the Premier League Golden Boot award last season with Liverpool pair Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, has 17 league goals this season.
“Aubameyang is our most important player, no doubt the impact he has in this team,” said Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta. “We will have to convince him to stay with us.”
Arteta, whose side are unbeaten in the Premier League since December, will also be pleased that Dani Ceballos is finally showing signs of fulfilling the promise that saw him labelled the next Cesc Fabregas.
Ceballos struggled to make an impact after arriving on loan from Real Madrid in the close-season and his hesitant displays sparked speculation that he would return to Spain in January.
But the 23-year-old Spaniard stayed and is beginning to flower under the guidance of his compatriot.
Ceballos has been an influential figure in Arsenal’s successive league wins over Newcastle and Everton.