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The good, the bad & solutions for VAR – Debating Liverpool 2-1 Aston Villa

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After eight games at Anfield without a win, Liverpool broke their barren run with a comeback 2-1 victory over Aston Villa, where VAR was thrown in the spotlight once again.

After mid-week disappointment, a return to Anfield was met with trepidation and while Ollie Watkins and VAR looked intent to add to the misery, the Reds went against the script.

Using the frustration of a marginal, at best, offside call prior to half-time, Mo Salah notched his 28th goal of the campaign to level the scores and provide Liverpool with foundations to build off.

And while they left it late, they did just that as Trent Alexander-Arnold fired home a rocket into the bottom corner to seal all three points and the first win at Anfield in 115 days.

It’s a result that could work wonders for confidence and morale as Jurgen Klopp‘s men head into the final stages of the season.

Here, This Is Anfield’s Joanna Durkan (@JoannaDurkan_) is joined by David Comerford (@Dave_Comerford) and Sam Adams (@SamuelAdams89) to discuss the highs and the lows from Liverpool’s victory and suggestions for how VAR can improve.

 

The good…

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 10, 2021: Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold (R) celebrates with team-mate Xherdan Shaqiri after scoring the second goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Aston Villa FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

DAVID: Trent’s winner was a moment to savour. At half-time, it felt like we were cursed, like we were in for yet another punch in the stomach.

But fortune was on our side in the second half – obviously, we got the rebound for the Salah goal, but more so I think back to the Trezeguet shot which looked for all the world like it was going in. I think we all found that winner pretty cathartic. And celebrations like that have been all too rare this season.

That win will surely be a weight off. The mental block when we’re playing at Anfield has been clear to see. The manner of the victory – coming from behind – is definitely significant. It was very easy to lose hope when we went behind.

But in the end, it’s a huge psychological boost for the remainder of the run-in.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 10, 2021: Liverpool's Roberto Firmino looks dejected after missing a chance during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Aston Villa FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

SAM: I thought we had some excellent forward play, Firmino dropping deeper allowed Salah freedom and he was a constant outlet for us – which we didn’t always capitalise on.

Listen, we know the script with Bobby, he’s an outstanding link player, decision making can be questionable but the shift he puts in is excellent.

Trent had a mixed game but what is sharp about him is his ability to find himself in the right situations. As close to David Beckham as you’ll see, maybe a right-back with solid defensive prowess behind him and a change or formation would take the burden off of him.

We won and at least we made opportunities unlike the game in Spain. And looking ahead, back-to-back wins are so important and if we achieve this, it’ll bring consistency and confidence into our season, as David also pointed out.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 10, 2021: Aston Villa's goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez is beaten as Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold scores the winning goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Aston Villa FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

JOANNA: It’s obviously hard to look beyond Trent’s winner and the feeling of relief it provided, and David is right in saying it felt cathartic.

You felt Liverpool were reading off the same old script but that they dug deep to turn it around was a brilliant feeling – that reminds me, I’ll have to apologise to the neighbours for the noise!

I agree with Sam that Firmino was really important for us and it was clear he was playing with a bit of flair and confidence that we haven’t seen a lot of this season. He’s so crucial to this system.

And can we just savour Anfield seeing its first win in 115 days and the end to over 12 hours without a goal in open play! It gives us as good of a foundation as we could have hoped for prior to Real Madrid on Wednesday. Bring it on.

 

The bad…

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 10, 2021: Liverpool's goalkeeper Alisson Becker, without his moustache, during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Aston Villa FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

DAVID: I don’t want to dwell too much on the negatives. This was by no means a great performance – we were actually pretty poor after we equalised – but I would have taken absolutely any victory at home.

In the interests of the debate, I’ll admit that Alisson should have done much better for the goal. It seemed to me that his positioning was slightly off, and when he tried to readjust the ball slipped through a gap. For a ‘keeper of his calibre, it was very poor.

And maybe you could also look at Sadio Mane putting a one-on-one straight at goalkeeper to extend his Premier League goal drought.

My main worry is probably the number of minutes demanded of Andy Robertson at the moment. He played well today but it feels precarious. You’d hope Kostas Tsimikas hasn’t run out of patience.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 10, 2021: Liverpool's Andy Robertson sees his shot saved, but Mohamed Salah scores an equalising goal with the rebound, during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Aston Villa FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

SAM: We were so poor at finding pockets. I’m a believer in space play, and in the final moment, we continually played to feet instead of space.

I’m sure it’s something Klopp is aware of, but the synchronisation in our forward play needs tidying up.

Villa found ways to overcome us and at times did so excellently but, as champions, we still need to find a way of battling these waves.

JOANNA: I’d agree there Sam in that our attacking play is nowhere near to the level required, but I’ll add that fatigue and confidence is playing a big role in that.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 10, 2021: Liverpool's Said Mané looks dejected after missing a chance during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Aston Villa FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Mane and Firmino, who was good against Villa, have found it hard-going in 2020/21 but we do need to find a working solution to get them all reading off the same page and rediscovering a clinical edge.

Adding on to David’s point in relation to Robbo, the team selection was surprising considering that the Scot and Gini looked desperate for a rest. It really does make you question what Tsimikas is doing so poorly in training that he can’t get a game.

There were a few other niggling negatives, like Alisson needing to do better to stop the goal, but thankfully, none proved decisive to the end result. More of that please, Reds.

 

And how would you propose to change VAR in regards to offside calls?

DAVID: I’ll keep it simple. We have a ‘clear and obvious’ threshold for fouls. Let’s apply it to offsides. Have the VAR look at the still for 10 seconds with no zooms, no geometry and if they can’t definitively say it’s offside, rule it on.

No supporter in their right mind would be complaining if these goals stood.

I think VAR is fundamentally good for the game. But these decisions are turning even its original supporters against it.

SAM: In my view, VAR is a car crash. An excellent opportunity to filter out clear issues, however, the issues are now worse with its use.

I believe the three challenge system should be brought in and those ridiculous lines on VAR need scrapping. God gave us eyes, let us use them! It’s become a lab-based experiment gone wrong and let’s face it, nobody likes it!

This game was a great example, as it was with Fulham the day prior. I’m not a fan, we won but with no help from the referee or technology.

BRIGHTON & HOVE, ENGLAND - Saturday, November 28, 2020: VAR review disallows Liverpool's opening goal during the FA Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the AMEX Stadium. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by Propaganda)

JOANNA: I think a lot would be in the boat of just scrapping it completely and it’s hard to argue that when it feels as though it does more bad than good.

But it’s certainly here to stay. And I’ll add another suggestion to that of David’s and Sam’s and that’s to measure offside from only the player’s feet.

The margin would still result in marginal calls and ones which don’t feel right, but I don’t feel you get any advantage with a shirt-sleeve, armpit or tailbone – in fact, they only add to the confusion and questions of what are we doing to the game?!

Using only feet should then see the forward player given more benefit of the doubt as it does in other sports and gives only one place for the ref on VAR to focus on.

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