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Premier League revert to three substitutes; keep strict, dumb VAR offside interpretation

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Stupid is as stupid does

Chelsea v Manchester United - Premier League - Stamford Bridge Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images

The Premier League had their Annual General Meeting (AGM) today, and the two big decisions that have come out of it are both rather dumb.

First, the league will go back to using only three substitutes (from seven on the bench), reverting from the five substitutes (from nine on the bench) allowed during Project Restart. This is in spite of FIFA and IFAB extending for 2020-21 the (temporary) change in the Laws of the Game increasing the number of substitutions allowed.

Many have claimed that the extra substitutions favor the “big” teams, which may or may not be actually true, while ignoring the universal and undisputed benefits of better load management, injury prevention, and player happiness. There’s a reason the game’s been trending towards (more) substitutions since its codification, from no substitutes allowed to one (1958) to three (1995), and now five (2020). Similarly, the number of players allowed on the bench has slowly been increasing — Chelsea have been pushing for nine for some time now — and some leagues and competitions, including UEFA and FIFA at the continental and international levels, have long eschewed the strict seven-player limit on the bench that the Premier League continue to subscribe to (and re-subscribe to).

But all of that pales in comparison with the utter stupidity of the strict offside rule interpretation that will continue to be used for VAR, with the league confirming the implementation of the “full FIFA VAR protocol”, which allows for zero tolerance in offside calls. So, get ready for more players offside by hairs and toenails and all the other assorted marginal nonsense that we’ve wasted time, energy, and brain cells on this past season, using a system that’s literally not accurate enough to make such determinations even if such determinations were in line with the spirit of the Laws, which they aren’t.

What we should be worried about is not five substitutes destroying the game. What we should be worried about is continuing lack of common sense, which continues to enable a system of refereeing wherein performances like Anthony Taylor’s in the FA Cup final are allowed to happen, and nay, even flourish, while spending time, effort, and resources on figuring out if one player exfoliated today or not.

There are five key areas that highlight the differences in implementation of VAR in 2020/21:

Referee Review Area (RRA): Increased use of the RRA, which will be used for subjective decisions in the three key areas - goals, red cards and penalty kicks

Goalkeeper encroachment on penalty kicks: The protocol does not allow for tolerance levels, so if the goalkeeper saves a penalty and his foot is over the line then VAR will advise it is retaken. If the goalkeeper is off his line and the ball hits the post or goes over, it won’t be retaken unless the ‘keeper has a material impact on the kick being missed

Player encroachment on penalty kicks: It is now judged on any part of a player’s body that is on the ground when the kick is taken. So if any part of the foot is on the penalty area or arc line it is encroachment. The player must still have a material impact on the outcome of the kick

Offsides: The protocol does not allow for tolerance levels

Keeping the flag down for tight marginal offside offences: When an immediate goalscoring opportunity is likely to occur, the assistant referee will keep their flag down until the passage of play is completed. Once the goalscoring opportunity is complete, either a goal is scored or the chance is gone, the assistant will then raise the flag to indicate the initial offence. If a goal is scored the VAR will then review the offside judgement

-source: Premier League