The ultimate guide to VAR in the Premier League - all your questions answered

Like it or not, Video Assistant Referees are here to stay. The International Football Association Board, football's lawmaker, has set out the protocol and this is how it will be applied in the Premier League.

JUMP TO: Handball | Offside | Check and review protocol | Red and yellow cards | Penalties


What will the VAR review?
- Goal/no goal
- Penalty/no penalty
- Direct red card (not second yellow card/caution)
- Mistaken identity (when the referee cautions or sends off the wrong player)

What will it not review?
- Any yellow card (including second yellow card leading to red)
- Any free kick offence outside the box (other than red card offence)

Can a player or manager request a review?
No, all incidents are automatically checked by the VAR.

Does the VAR make the final decision?
No, this will always be taken by the match referee. The VAR may advise the referee of a possible wrong decision, but the final call must always be the referee's.

Who is in the VAR room?
In the Premier League there will be a lead official, who will make judgements on all reviews. There will also be an assistant official, who continues to watch the live game while the lead handles a review. The third person is the Hawk-eye operative, who controls the technology and is independent of the decision-making process.

When does the VAR check an incident?
Every moment is watched for an infringement or missed incident and all goals are checked.

What does "clear and obvious" mean?
If the VAR believes the referee has either obviously misjudged an incident, or simply missed it, this is grounds for a review and for the decision to be overturned.

Which replays does the VAR watch in slow motion?
Slow-mo is only used to judge the point of contact on a foul or handball, or where the place an offence took place. Over-riding judgements will always be made from real-time replay.

Can a goal be disallowed for an offence in the build-up?
Offside and fouls by an attacking player will be checked and an offence may see the goal ruled out and a free kick awarded to the defending team. The VAR can also check for ball out of play.

Does the same apply after a penalty has been awarded?
Yes, any offence prior to the award of a spot kick is checked, including whether it took place inside or outside the penalty area and offside.

What about a restart, like a corner or goal kick?
It's against VAR protocol for any standard restart to be reviewed (the exception is a penalty kick). Decisions on such incidents can only be made by the on-pitch referee. So, on a goal kick the VAR cannot rule on encroachment by an attacking player, nor can it rule on the ball being within the quadrant on a corner.

What if a valid goal has been scored but the ref blew his whistle?
The old adage of you "play to the whistle" comes in here. If the referee has already blown before the ball has crossed the line there is nothing that VAR can do. Play is dead from the moment the whistle blows, regardless of the referee's decision on a foul or offside being correct.

Can a match be called off or replayed if VAR stops working?
A match is not invalidated by malfunctioning VAR or if an incorrect decision is made. Sheffield United's goal-that-never-was against Aston Villa in June, when goal-line technology didn't work, is a key example.

Should fans in stadiums be better informed?
This is a work in progress. Messages are displayed on big screens or electronic advertising boards and, in some instances, replays are used to explain decisions. But these are controlled by the home club's staff, so could be subject to delay or carry incomplete information.

Does a VAR review take too much time out of the game?
The ball is only in play for an average of 60 minutes per game, so most reviews will be completed when it is naturally out of play. However, there will obviously be times when there are extended delays.

Is VAR aiming for 100% accuracy?
In 2018-19, the Premier League calculated that 82% of key match-changing incidents were correct and, with the help of VAR, it raised that number to around 95%. The fact that some decisions are subjective, though, means that 100% accuracy is impossible.


What is going on with handball?
The IFAB changed the law in 2019 to try and eliminate uncertainty when a goal is scored. This means that any contact with the hand/arm of an attacking player that leads to or creates a goal -- even if accidental -- is against the laws of the game. While the exact definition of handball has now been defined in the Laws of the Game, the offence itself has not been modified.

Surely a referee missing a slight offence is not a "clear and obvious" error?
Like offside, it has been decided that handball leading to a goal is a binary decision. If it happens, the goal will be disallowed. The only stipulation is that the handball must happen immediately before the goal, or assist, for it to be an offence.

Last season, 14 goals were disallowed by the VAR for offside but this should improve in 2020-21 with the new law on arm position and immediacy.

What is different if the ball comes off a defender's arm?
A defending player can still be adjudged to have accidentally handled the ball, so it is not automatically an offence, creating a two-tier handball law.

Will VAR be strict on defensive handballs?
The Premier League is expected to be much stricter in its interpretation of handballs by defenders in 2020-21, so more penalties may follow as seen in FIFA and UEFA competitions.

So this is not VAR's fault?
VAR is purely enforcing this law. Though without VAR would it be enforced?


Is offside judged as a "clear and obvious" error?
Offside, like the ball crossing the line, is considered a binary and objective decision. For example, a player will be adjudged offside even if only his toes are in front of the last defender.

Does someone draw lines on a TV screen?
The Premier League (and FIFA) uses Hawk-eye imaging technology, which judges offside by the part of a player's body furthest forward (excluding arms).

How does the VAR decide which frame to use?
The first point of contact of the passing act is key, not the point of release. The Hawk-eye operative will select three frames for the VAR, who will choose the one that best represents that first point. From this frame, the imaging is activated.

How is the offside decision made?
Once the frame has been selected, the Hawk-eye official will, in consultation with the VAR, mark reference points on the relevant attacking and defenders. Cross-hair markers will be placed on the front foot, shoulder and possibly the knee depending on each player's stance.

The furthest-most point is then applied to the imaging software, along with the point on the ground where a player is stood, to produce a blue line for the defending player and a red line for the attacking player. If any of the red line can be seen in front of the blue line, then the attacking player is in an offside position.

In the final image, the graphic will be red for offside and green for onside.

Is VAR 100% accurate for offside?
Present technology means it cannot be 100%, but it does allow officials to make a more informed decision than by using the naked eye in real time.

Also, cameras used at football matches are not of sufficient quality to be completely accurate, with some claims there should be a margin of error of around 13cm.

So why not use a margin for error on tight calls?
MLS has chosen not to use calibrated lines or Hawk-eye technology, instead preferring the naked eye to analyse the freeze frame while looking for anything they categorise as "clearly and obviously wrong." However, the Australian A-League moved away from this method due to many controversial calls and now used the Hawk-eye tech. MLS looked at introducing it for 2020, but there are not enough cameras at all grounds to implement it consistently and the cost was prohibitive -- MLS also does not have goal-line technology for this reason.

FIFA has refused requests to apply a margin of error and says the law must be applied as the technological evidence shows.

Why not look for "daylight" between defender and attacker?
This would give a huge advantage to the attacking team. Moreover, the "marginal point" would just go further back and players would still be offside by millimetres.

In addition, the position of the camera would be crucial. Only if the camera angle is directly in line with the offside incident could any decision be made on "daylight". It is completely unworkable and there would be no consistency.

Arsene Wenger has proposed that this should be the offside law and it could go to trials in 2021, but there offside law will not change before 2022-23 at the earliest.

Is the assistant referee instructed to keep his flag down?
If the call is exceptionally tight, the assistant should keep the flag down until a goal is scored or attacking move ends. This could also, for instance, mean a corner is cancelled and offside given.


What is the difference between a check and a review?
Check: The VAR watches the replay of an incident before allowing play to continue. Most checks are completed so quickly that players and fans are not aware they have happened.

Review: The referee might delay the restart of play -- signalled by placing his finger to his ear -- while the VAR investigates a possible offence. The referee may then watch the incident on a pitchside monitor if it is a subjective decision.

How does the referee signal a decision has been changed?
A rectangular TV signal is made with both hands before the official points to where the infringement took place.

Is there a time limit for a review?
No, accuracy is deemed more important.

When should the referee stop play for a full review?
If a clear incident has been spotted, such as an obvious red card or penalty, play will be stopped when the ball is in a neutral area. Otherwise, it will continue until the ball is dead.

So could Team A score a goal, only for it to be disallowed and Team B awarded a penalty?
Play would revert back to the point at which the offence occurred, so it is possible for there to be a two-goal swing.

Last season, Bournemouth were 1-0 down to Burnley and scored on the break. However, the VAR spotted a Burnley handball at the start of the move which resulted in a penalty to the Clarets. So 1-1 became 2-0 to Burnley.

How far back in play can a review go after a goal is scored?
This decision is based on the Attacking Phase of Play, which begins when the scoring team starts the attacking move toward goal and ends when it is completed. However, an attacking move can be considered to have reset to create a new phase if the defence has regrouped.

It's a very subjective point, and in the Premier League is only likely to go back a handful of passes.

What is the process for a subjective review with a pitchside monitor?
- The VAR advises the referee that a check is taking place for a possible infringement
- If the VAR considers a "clear and obvious" error has been made, he will tell the referee who will view the incident himself on the pitchside montior
- The final decision stays with the referee, who can change his decision or stick with the original call.

What is the "high bar" for decisions in the Premier League?
The Premier League does not want the pace of play to be affected, so will not micro-analyse subjective reviews; if a mistake is not immediately apparent, a decision is unlikely to be reversed.

How long should a review take?
The Premier League says that the average time for a full VAR review with an overturned decision is approximately 84 seconds. With regard to checks, there is an average delay of 22 seconds across an entire game.

Is lost time added on?
The referee will add any time used for a review to the end of the half.

When is it too late to review an incident?
Once play has restarted. The referee should pause the game if a review is being conducted. The exception is a review for a potential sending-off offence relating to violent conduct, spitting, biting or extremely offensive, insulting and/or abusive gestures which can go back before a restart of play.

What if a referee blows his whistle before the ball goes into net?
This is a basic rule of football -- you play to the whistle. Once the whistle has gone, play is dead. There is nothing VAR could do to award a goal.


Can a VAR review ever lead to a yellow card?
VAR cannot review a yellow card, but it can lead to one. For instance, if a player has deceived the referee to win a penalty the referee may book him for diving after the penalty review. Also, any player who excessively appeals for the use of VAR -- including substitutes -- can be cautioned.

Can a player get a yellow card following a red card review?
A review for a direct red card can result in a yellow card. For example, if there is a review for a high tackle that the VAR believes could be a red card, the referee could decide it is only worth yellow.

Can a red card be rescinded as well as shown?
If the VAR advises that a player should not have been sent off, the sanction can be downgraded to a yellow or rescinded entirely.

If a decision is overturned, are yellow and red cards quashed?
Only for denying a goal-scoring opportunity or the stopping of a promising attack. Any other cards shown between the infringement and the stoppage of play would stand (dissent, for instance).


When will VAR get involved in a penalty kick?
It will only check for an encroaching player who gets directly involved in the outcome -- after a save, or rebound off the post, for example -- and to check that a player has not stuttered his run directly before taking the kick.

Encroaching by outfield players is not only defined by the feet rather than the players' lean forward.

What about a goalkeeper staying on his line?
The revised law states that a goalkeeper must have one foot on the line when the penalty is struck and was stringently enforced at the FIFA Women's World Cup.

UEFA, the Premier League and the Bundesliga subsequently decided last season that the law will only be enforced if it is blatantly flouted. But FIFA has ordered that the VAR must fully enforce this law from the 2020-21 season.

A penalty is awarded but a review overturns the decision. How does play restart?
In the case of no foul, with an uncontested dropped ball to the goalkeeper. If there was an attacking infringement in the build-up, like offside or a foul, play restarts with a free kick to the defending team.