SOCCER

Why Rashford was onside, but Jesus and Toney offside

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The Video Assistant Referee sparks controversy every week in the Premier League, but how are decisions made and are they correct?

When there is a major incident, we review and explain the process both in terms of the VAR protocol and the Laws of the Game.

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– How VAR decisions have affected each Prem club in 2022-23
Craziest VAR moments: Alisson’s two red cards in one game
– VAR in the Premier League: ultimate guide

Possible offside: Rashford goal

What happened: Manchester United led 2-0 when Anthony Martial played Marcus Rashford on goal, and the England international slotted the ball past Alisson. There was talk of Rashford being ahead of last defender Joe Gomez when the ball was played.

VAR Decision: The objective stands.

VAR review: It was the weekend of tight offside calls, including two goals which were disallowed by the narrowest of margins. And in Rashford’s case, the goal was only achieved due to a change instituted a year ago in the way VAR offside is governed.

The current VAR offside system has several flaws, mainly around the exact time the ball is played and the manual scoring of points on the attacker’s and defender’s body. Ahead of Euro 2020, UEFA proposed a new system to give the striker the ‘benefit of the doubt’. If the two lines touch, it is too close to follow and the attacker must be put back into play.

The objective was to remove the most marginal offside calls called “toenails”. One such example was Jordan Henderson’s stoppage-time winner for Liverpool at Everton two years ago, with Sadio Mane called offside in the build-up. This is exactly the kind of situation, with no gap between the lines, that led to the “benefit of the doubt” rule.

This gives a tolerance level, or margin of error, of 5cm to the attacking player, meaning they can be right in front of the defender but the goal will stand due to any inaccuracies in the system.

Usually the offside image shows the two lines towards the attacker and the defender, but when a player is onside due to the tolerance level, the computer automatically shows only the line towards the defender – which in the Premier League is green to more clearly indicate that a goal is good. The line is not shown for both players (in any league) as they would be sitting on top of each other.

Rashford was slightly offside, but onside due to that ‘benefit of the doubt’.

There are always issues with viewing offside calls, due to the way the human eye perceives a 3D situation on a 2D image. Depending on the angle of the camera, it might look like one player is ahead of another, but the technology says otherwise. This means fans often don’t trust the result. That’s why semi-automated offside technology (SAOT) is coming this year, first in the Champions League and then in the World Cup.

– Will semi-automated offside be the big VAR fix many were hoping for?

While Man United were the beneficiaries on Monday night, they have also conceded in recent games because of this rule.

On the opening day of the season, Danny Welbeck edged slightly ahead of Harry Maguire before setting up Pascal Gross for Brighton & Hove Albion’s first goal in their 2-1 win.

And towards the end of last season, Teemu Pukki equalized for Norwich City at Old Trafford.

How does this differ from other offside decisions this weekend? The simple answer is that every offside picture is unique. There is no argument to say that if Rashford is on the line against Liverpool then Gabriel Jesus’ goal for Arsenal against AFC Bournemouth should have stood. It is based solely on the relative positions of two players in an individual situation.

Even with the 5cm tolerance level, there will still be offside situations that fall right on the border. There will always be a time when the stake must become offside. It is unavoidable. And Jesus’ goal is one of the tightest we’ve seen. Pixelated images on social media can sometimes give the appearance of overlapping lines, but the high-definition graphics used by VAR are much clearer.

In Jesus’ offside image, his shoulder is in front of the foot of the Bournemouth defender, and as the lines do not touch, it is not within the tolerance level. The offside must be given. If we say that Jesus lens should be next, it just creates a new border at, say, 6cm. Then there will be other goals that are 7cm offside and produce a similar picture. And so on.

Ivan Toney’s goal for Brentford at Fulham was also just outside the tolerance level – but it wasn’t as close as Jesus’ offside.

And while there were plenty of comments after Jeff Schlupp had a goal disallowed for offside in the build-up against Odsonne Edouard, in terms of VAR offside calls it wasn’t exactly close, with a very clear gap between the lines.

Arsenal had another offside situation on Martin Odegaard’s second goal at Bournemouth, but Ben White turned out to be onside. It didn’t need the level of tolerance settling, attacking lines and defense specifying it.

So where do we go from here? Semi-automated offside technology will remove the entire VAR process of deciding when the ball has been played, tracking players and drawing lines. It will be almost instantaneous and will use bespoke cameras rather than relying on the usual TV broadcast frames. The VAR will only have to validate that it is a correct offside situation (the ball is played by an attacking player or by a player in an active offside position).

to play

1:58

An explainer of how FIFA’s semi-automated technology will help VAR offside decisions at the World Cup.

What’s an even better enhancement is a 3D visualization of an offside situation, such as goal line technology or line calls in tennis, which brings the fan directly in line with the players as if they were the assistant referee. The idea is that it will remove the lack of confidence in the process among some fans.

The Premier League and all major leagues are watching with interest in the hope that the new system will be a success. We could see him adopted for the 2023-24 season and will no longer be forced to use the current manual offside system that supporters hate so much.

Information provided by the Premier League and PGMOL has been used in this story.

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