Did VAR Avoid Favouritism Scrutiny With Liverpool Penalty Decision?

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Football fans are pretty use to intense and close end of season Premier League battles in more recent years, but the 2023/24 campaign has defied expectations.

Not only is there a very unexpected Aston Villa in the Champions League baggage area, a single point continues to separate the top three of Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City following the weekend’s round of fixture, and although the, then top two clash between Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, had been billed by some as being ‘season defining’ with their game ended in a score draw, it is now minor advantage Mikel Arteta.

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Whilst fans of both sets of colours may not have been ultimately happy with how the game played out, there was enough goal mouth action, good passages of play, and enough end to end excitement to keep most neutrals happy, as either side could have walked away with the points at the final whistle.

One issue in the game that will continue to dominate headlines for the next few days was the controversial late penalty shout from Liverpool where a very chest high foot from Jeremy Doku very clearly connected with Alex Mac Allister’s side, but the referee and Video Assistant Referee passed the incident off without even much of a second thought.

The event was virtually the last kick of the game, and both the player’s and Klopp’s remonstrations that it was a cast iron decision had plenty of support from pundits and former referee’s. They seemed to all but agree that whilst you could debate whether or not it was a yellow card, or a straight red card punishment, there could be no debate as to whether or not it was a penalty itself.

Former top flight referee Keith Hackett called it ‘nailed on’ and he could not understand how ‘elite level’ officials did not see it as a foul, calling it ‘completely unbelievable’.

Obviously, given the nature of the game and what could have been riding on the final result, not everyone saw it that way, and City defender Kyle Walker was definitely engaged in a game of ‘choose the right words’ when he was interviewed at the full time whistle.

Having praised Michael Oliver’s over all performance in the game (something echoed by Mac Allister outside of this decision), the England right back further praised him for not ‘crumbling’ to the vociferous Anfield crowd, stating it was why he was one of the ‘best referee’s in this country and the world’.

When he was tasked with being drawn on the decision in question, Walker totally sidestepped it saying he did not want to make ‘headlines’ with his own thoughts on the matter.

“The VAR’s checked it, the ref’s done it – that’s all I’m going to say on that.”

Plenty of others will continue to fill in the blanks he left, as after all the ‘favouritism’ talk on decisions taken this season, by the end of the campaign there will be those corners debating whether a decision was wilfully not taken here to avoid further ‘favouritism scrutiny’ given what may have been riding on the result.

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