VAR was brought into football to try and get rid of the “clear and obvious” errors that were being made by referees.
However, even with the benefit of slow-motion replays and multiple camera angles, we are still seeing referees make shocking calls on a weekly basis.
This has been the case since VAR was introduced, and 2021 has been no exception.
With some real clangers included, we’ve to rank the aforementioned eight VAR shockers from the… well the least bad to the worst.
8. Mario Lemina – Fulham vs. Tottenham – March 4, 2021
The reason this decision is so far down on the list, despite being incredibly harsh, is that VAR actually made the right decision based on the latter of the law.
That doesn’t mean that the rule isn’t incredibly stupid, though.
As can be seen above, Josh Maja’s equaliser against Fulham was ruled out after VAR ruled that Mario Lemina had handled the ball before his teammate scored.
While true, the decision was incredibly harsh. Lemina’s hands were by his side when Davidson Sanchez blasted the ball at him from point-blank range.
It isn’t clear what the referees wanted Lemina to do, but because the ball did strike his hand, the rules state the goal should have been disallowed.
The rule was so controversial, as seen in Newcastle’s 1-1 draw with Liverpool later on in the season, that the rule was actually changed ahead of the 2021/22 campaign.
7. Jannick Vestergaard – Brighton vs. Leciester – September 19, 2021
Jannick Vestergaard gave away a penalty as Brighton beat Leicester 2-1 earlier on this season.
The call saw referee Stuart Atwell, after consulting with his assistants and VAR, award a penalty to Brighton after Vestergaard was adjudged to have handled the ball.
The decision was harsh, as Duffy headed the ball onto Vestergaard’s arm from point-blank range, but that isn’t the end of the controversy.
As can be seen above, it’s pretty clear that Neal Maupay was holding the defender as he went to jump in the air, so Leicester probably should have been awarded a free-kick.
Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers was pretty clear in his assessment that VAR made the wrong decision in his post-match comments:
Jannik has been fouled, he’s been pulled down and of course his arm is up because he’s been fouled and then the ball heads onto his hand without even looking at it.”
6. Ben Godfrey – Everton vs. Arsenal – December 6, 2021.
Ben Godfrey should have considered himself pretty lucky to stay on the pitch after stamping on Takehiro Tomiyasu during Everton’s win over Arsenal this month.
Godfrey got stuck in during the match, putting in several big tackles, but it was this incident with Tomiyasu that was the most notable.
In the first half, as can be seen above, Ben Godfrey lands with his studs on the Arsenal defender’s face, leaving him with a nasty scar.
However, VAR and the officials in charge that day decided that the incident was purely accidental, with Godfrey escaping without even a yellow card.
Gary Neville, who was working Monday Night Football for the game, didn’t seem to agree that the Godfrey challenge was a mistake, but said he understood why it wasn’t a red card:
“As a professional, he 100% means that. I can see why VAR has said it is accidental, we couldn’t prove it but as a professional he meant it but I can see why it is not a red.”
5. Harry Kane – Tottenham vs. Liverpool – December 19, 2021
Kane charged at Robertson to win the ball back, landing on the Scotland captain’s shin with his studs.
The challenge was so bad that many on social media felt as if Robertson only escaped getting his leg broken because he managed to jump and ensure his leg wasn’t planted.
The decision the referees came to was to give Kane a yellow card, with the England captain bafflingly claiming after the match that he thought he won the ball, which he clearly didn’t.
What angered Liverpool fans even more was the fact that Robertson was sent off in the second half for a rash tackle on Emerson Royal.
While many Reds fans admitted that Robertson should have been sent off for his tackle, they felt as if Kane should have been given his marching orders too.
It was the inconsistencies with VAR that were highlighted here, with it being very unclear why Kane wasn’t sent off while Robertson was.
4. Jan Bednarek – Man United vs. Southampton – February 2, 2021.
Sometimes, even when VAR decisions go you’re way, you can admit that the officials got it wrong.
That’s exactly what happened to Anthony Martial earlier on this year, at least according to Jan Bednarek.
During Man United’s 9-0 thrashing of Southampton, Bednarek was sent off in the 86th minute, with the score at 6-0.
Not that it would have made a difference to the scoreline, but Bednarek probably shouldn’t have been sent off for the incident with Martial, which wasn’t even a foul.
The camera caught Bednarek telling the officials after the game that Martial admitted that he hadn’t been fouled.
The authorities even admitted that they got this one wrong, with Bednarek’s red card being rescinded in the subsequent days.
3. Ryan Fraser – Newcastle vs. Man City – December 19, 2021
Another shocker here from December 2021, this time featuring Ederson and Ryan Fraser.
As can be seen from the clip above, Ederson completely takes out Ryan Fraser inside his own penalty box in the second half, with play being waved on.
Admittedly, Joao Cancelo had the ball, so it wasn’t like Fraser was about to score, but he was still fouled inside the penalty area and the penalty should have been awarded.
This one really didn’t make sense, and even retrospectively, it’s still pretty baffling.
2. Phil Foden – Man City vs. Southampton – March 10, 2021
From a decision that went Man City’s way to one that didn’t, as we look back on City’s game with Southampton in March.
As he’s through on goal, looking very likely to score, Phil Foden is fouled by Saints’ goalkeeper, Alex McCarthy.
To his credit, but also to his detriment, Foden rides the challenges and stays on his feet, despite clearly losing balance.
It was Foden’s honesty and desire to score that probably convinced the referees not to give a penalty, but one should have been awarded anyway.
It didn’t matter too much to the outcome of the game, however, with Man City beating Southampton 5-2 on the night.
1. Mbaye Diagne – West Brom vs. Southampton – April 12, 2021
Mbaye Diagne scored three goals in 16 games for West Brom during his time on loan with the club last season, but it should have been four.
The Senegalese striker thought he opened the scoring for West Brom during the side’s eventual 3-0 win over Southampton in April, but VAR controversy ensued.
Diagne headed in Darnell Furlong’s shot, but the assistant referee wrongly ruled the goal out for offside.
Television replays showed that Diagne was clearly onside, and it was his teammate Kyle Bartley, who was not interfering with play, who was off.
However, the on-field decision stood, but it wasn’t because of anything that anyone on the pitch did.
In a statement to talkSPORT, the Premier League admitted that “they couldn’t get an angle that conclusively showed” whether or not Diagne’s upper body was offside.
Sometimes the technology can overcomplicate things, as it was clear as day to everyone watching, seemingly apart from the VAR officials, that Diagne was onside.