VARdy denied by VAR

International week is here. The week where a series of friendlies, decided by FIFA, sees teams try out their different players and formations. England played the Netherlands a couple of days ago and yesterday played Italy. Jamie Vardy scored in the early stages of the game and would have been on course for the winning goal had a penalty not been awarded to the Azzuri via VAR. So that is how Vardy was denied the chance to be the match winner.

England manager Gareth Southgate was disappointed with the decision, and for good reason too. James Tarkowski, the England defender who has had a brilliant season marshalling the backlines at Burnley, along with goalkeeper Nick Pope (who has yet to play a friendly), conceded the penalty in the later stages of his debut. What a debut it would have been for the centre back. And despite the fact that England in their last eight games have had five wins and three draws, Southgate would have taken six and two if he could.

Italy did not have much to play for, having not qualified for the World Cup. Can you imagine a World Cup without Italy? The country that is shaped like a boot not going to the World Cup? But just as transfer windows are good opportunities to showcase skills to the Premier League team scouts, so are friendlies. The Azzuri had a quiet first half and England seemed in control until the late penalty.

“If you look at the replay, Tarkowski stood on his foot but it was in the act of running and he was already going down.” Southgate said. Tarkowski himself conceded – like a true Burnley player not afraid to man up – that he had stood on the opposing player’s foot, but it may have been a case of 50-50 and the referee chose to give it against England.

VAR has not really had a satisfactory debut and is still rough around the edges. I have been calling for so many times now, stop the referee reviewing each decision. Just let the referee control the game, and give managers a challenge in each half, or two per game. Once they use it it is gone, and if there is undisputable evidence that the decision was incorrect then it is overturned. If not, the referee’s decision stands. Just like in the NFL. The game is more likely to flow because of the relative lack of stoppages (no more than four a game), and if the referee made a wrong decision then it is not his fault, it is the fault of the manager for not challenging it (or not managing his use of challenges wisely).

It really is that simple, but of course the media loves VAR and its problems because it fills column inches. But for a reader, it is just boring to see teams going var, var, var when a result doesn’t go their way.

Sharpening their Spurs in Europe

It’s not been a bad week for Tottenham Hotspur, has it? Even though the North London derby win brought them up to third in the table, before wins by Chelsea and Liverpool brought them sliding down to fifth again – out of the Champions League spots, they showed their mettle in the current Champions League campaign with a 2-2 away draw at Juventus.

The away side were slow to settle and gave away a 2-0 lead inside of ten minutes. You could have said that Juve deliberately targeted the Spurs backline, with youth in its side, and Gonzalo Higuain was on his way to a hat trick before he had even warmed up sufficiently. But Spurs showed their mettle and fought back slowly, first with Harry Kane slipping past Gigi Buffon to slot it, and then Christian Eriksen rounding a free kick past the wall to earn the Spurs an important advantage in the competition.

The 2-2 away draw means that Juventus are on the back foot on away goals – remember that after 90 minutes away goals count as double. The away goals rule was implemented to stop sides playing defensive football and hoping to make it through on penalties. It has been one of the more positive changes to the game to make it more exciting. Another has been the back pass rule – remember when a goalkeeper could pick up the ball from his own players and defences just kept rolling the ball back to the goalie? (You’d have to be a certain age to recall that, actually.) A change still not quite well-implemented yet is VAR.

Coming back to the game, the 2-2 draw in Turin at the Allianz Stadium means that Juventus have to go on the offensive. Spurs only need a 1-1 draw or better to progress. But it would be a mistake to simply expect to sit back and defend. Juventus with their front line of Higuain and Mandzukic et al are very good at scoring, and if you were behind that’s when their defence clamps down on you.

That was not necessarily the case yesterday, but should make for good football in the return leg. Spurs are definitely the better team to watch in North London; have been for the last few years – if you haven’t already realised that!