The ultimate guide to VAR in the Premier League - all your questions answered

Like it or not, Video Assistant Referees are here to stay. The International Football Association Board, football's lawmaker, has set out the protocol and this is how it is applied in the Premier League -- and all other leagues.

JUMP TO: How does VAR work? | "Clear and obvious" | Let's get technical | Offside | Red and yellow cards | Penalties | Check and review protocol | Handball


What will the VAR review?
- Goal/no goal
- Penalty/no penalty
- Direct red card (not second yellow card/caution)
- Mistaken identity (when the referee cautions or sends off the wrong player)

- How VAR has affected every Premier League club

What will it not review?
- Any yellow card (including second yellow card leading to red)
- Any free-kick offence outside the box, unless a red card offence or if it leads to a goal/penalty

Is VAR aiming for 100% accuracy?
The fact that some decisions are subjective means that 100% accuracy is impossible. However, the accuracy can be improved to remove most clear errors.


Who is in the VAR room?
In the Premier League there is a lead official, who will make judgements on all reviews. There will also be an assistant official, who continues to watch the live game while the lead handles a review. The third person is the Hawk-eye operative, who controls the technology and is independent of the decision-making process.

When does the VAR check an incident?
Every moment is watched for an infringement or missed incident and all goals are checked.

What is the difference between a check and a review?
Check: The VAR watches the replay of an incident before allowing play to continue. Most checks are completed so quickly that players and fans are not aware they have happened.

Review: The referee might delay the restart of play -- signalled by placing his finger to his ear -- while the VAR investigates a possible offence. If the VAR believes an incorrect decision has been made by the referee on a subjective incident, the referee will watch the incident on a pitchside monitor to confirm that he will change his decision. A review will only be instigated by the VAR if he believes the decision is wrong.

When should the referee stop play for a full review?
If a clear incident has been spotted, such as an obvious red card or penalty, play will be stopped when the ball is in a neutral area. Otherwise, it will continue until the ball is dead.

The referee must always make a decision first -- he cannot wait for the opinion of the VAR.

What is the process for a subjective review with a pitchside monitor?
- The VAR advises the referee that a check is taking place for a possible infringement
- If the VAR considers a "clear and obvious" error has been made, he will tell the referee who will view the incident himself on the pitchside montior
- The final decision stays with the referee, who can change his decision or stick with the original call.

Does the VAR make the final decision?
No, this will always be taken by the match referee. The VAR will advise the referee of a possible wrong decision, but the final call must always be the referee's.

For factual decisions such as offside or where an offence occurs, the referee will take the advice of the VAR but always has the right to view pitchside.

How does the referee signal a decision has been changed?
A rectangular TV signal is made with both hands before the official points to where the infringement took place.


What does "clear and obvious" mean?
If the VAR believes the referee has obviously misjudged an incident, meaning it did not happen how the referee describes, this is grounds for a review and for the decision to be overturned.

Why even bother with "clear and obvious"?
For all its flaws, this will always exist in some form. Call it something else if you wish, but has to be a threshold for the VAR to intervene -- even if you are reducing it right down just to the subjectivity of the VAR himself.

Can't we just get all decisions correct?
That sounds great, doesn't it? The problem is these decisions are subjective, meaning even referees themselves will disagree on the correct call (in many instances). What is a foul to one person isn't to another -- and that is certainly the case when fans are watching their own team!

So, just let the VAR change the decision if it's wrong
Again, the opinion of the VAR may not be the same as yours. And, of course, the match referee. We saw in the 2019-20 season, when pitchside monitors weren't being used, how little trust there was in the process from players, managers and supporters. The feeling is that if the VAR is making the big decisions alone, then the game is being re-refereed.

Why doesn't the referee use the monitor more often?
One of the regular comments from managers and pundits is that the referee should "go and have another look" at the monitor to check his decision. But this is not what the monitor is for. It is only used when the referee has made a "clear and obvious" error, ergo the VAR has told him the decision is wrong and referee uses the monitor to confirm the decision will be changed. The monitor quite simply isn't for the referee to check his decision, it's to change it.


Can a goal be disallowed for an offence in the build-up?
Offside and fouls by a player in the attacking phase will be checked and an offence may see the goal ruled out and a free kick awarded to the defending team. The VAR can also check for ball out of play.

Does the same apply after a penalty has been awarded?
Yes, any offence prior to the award of a spot kick is checked, including offside and whether it took place inside the penalty area.

What about a restart, like a corner or goal kick?
It's against VAR protocol for any standard restart to be reviewed (the exception is a penalty kick). Decisions on such incidents can only be made by the on-pitch referee. So, on a goal kick the VAR cannot rule on encroachment by an attacking player, nor can it rule on the ball being within the quadrant on a corner.

Can a player or manager request a review?
No, all incidents are automatically checked by the VAR.

When is it too late to review an incident?
Once play has restarted. The referee should pause the game if a review is being conducted. The exception is a review for a potential sending-off offence relating to violent conduct, spitting, biting or extremely offensive, insulting and/or abusive gestures which can go back before a restart of play.

Is there a time limit for a review?
No, accuracy is deemed more important. The Premier League says that the average time for a full VAR review with an overturned decision is approximately 84 seconds. With regard to checks, there is an average delay of 22 seconds across an entire game.

Is lost time added on?
The referee will add any time used for a review to the end of the half.

Why do the referee and VAR use slow motion replays?
Slow-mo is only used to judge the point of contact on a foul or handball. Over-riding judgements should always be made from real-time replay.

What is the Attacking Phase of Play?
A review of a goal or a penalty for a foul or an offside offence can go back back as far as the start of the Attacking Phase of Play.

So what is the Attacking Phase of Play? It begins when the attacking team takes possession of the ball and, crucially, starts to move forward towards the opponents' goal.

Crucially, the Attacking Phase is not reset if a defender simply clears the ball back to the attacking team. He must pass to a teammate or obviously be in control of the ball.

It's a very subjective point, and in the Premier League is only likely to go back a handful of passes. However, other leagues are far stricter on the attacking phase and can disallow a goal many passes earlier.

What if a penalty offence is spotted but then the full-time whistle has blown?
As long as the offence happened before the referee blew his whistle, the VAR can intervene and order a penalty review. This happened at the end of Brighton vs. Man United in the 2020-21 season. Neal Maupay handled the ball seconds before the referee blew for full-time, but as the game was still "live" when the handball occurred the penalty was still awarded, taken and scored.

What if a valid goal has been scored but the ref blew his whistle?
The old adage of you "play to the whistle" comes in here. If the referee has already blown before the ball has crossed the line there is nothing that VAR can do. Play is dead from the moment the whistle blows, regardless of the referee's decision on a foul or offside being correct.

What if Team A scores a goal, but Team B has a valid penalty appeal earlier in the play?
The goal is ruled out and play reverts back to the point at which the penalty offence occurred, so it is possible for there to be a two-goal swing.

In 2019-20, Bournemouth were 1-0 down to Burnley and scored an equaliser to make it 1-1. However, the VAR spotted a Burnley handball at the start of the move which resulted in a penalty to the Clarets. So 1-1 became 2-0 to Burnley.

Can a match be called off or replayed if VAR stops working?
A match is not invalidated by malfunctioning VAR or if an incorrect decision is made. Sheffield United's goal-that-never-was against Aston Villa in the 2019-20 season, when goal-line technology didn't work, is a key example.

A penalty is awarded but a review overturns the decision. How does play restart?
In the case of no foul or handball, it's with an uncontested dropped ball to the goalkeeper -- as long as the ball was still in play. If the whistle is blown after the ball has gone out, play restarts as it would if the penalty hadn't happened -- be it a corner, goal kick or throw-in.

If there was an attacking infringement in the build-up, like offside or a foul, play restarts with a free kick to the defending team.

Should fans in stadiums be better informed?
This is most definitely a work in progress and VAR remains a poor experience inside stadiums. Messages are displayed on big screens or electronic advertising boards and, in some instances, replays are used to explain decisions. But these are controlled by the home club's staff, so could be subject to delay or carry incomplete information.

When can we hear the VAR conversations?
It is against IFAB protocols for conversations between the VAR and referee to be broadcast, and sadly this is unlikely to change any time in the near future.


Is offside judged as a "clear and obvious" error?
Offside, like the ball crossing the line, is considered a binary and objective decision. For example, a player will be adjudged offside even if only his toes are in front of the last defender.

Does someone draw lines on a TV screen?
The Premier League (like all competitions) uses Hawk-eye imaging technology, which judges offside by the part of a player's body furthest forward (excluding arms).

How does the VAR decide which frame to use?
The first point of contact of the passing act, not the point of release. The Hawk-eye operative will select three frames for the VAR, who will choose the one that represents that first point. From this frame, the imaging is activated.

It can be a problem, because the correct frame might not actually be available. In that case, the VAR must select the first frame in which the ball has definitely been touched. This is why the offside image sometimes has the appearance that the ball has already left the passer's foot, but it is correct by VAR protocol.

How is the offside decision made?
Once the frame has been selected, the Hawk-eye official will, in consultation with the VAR, mark reference points on the relevant attacker and defender. Cross-hair markers will be placed on the front foot, shoulder and possibly the knee depending on each player's stance.

The furthest-most point is then applied to the imaging software, along with the point on the ground where a player is stood, to produce a blue line for the defending player and a red line for the attacking player.

How has offside changed for 2021-22?
It's fair to say that VAR offside has caused the most anger, due to players being judged offside by the smallest of margins. It means the "benefit of the doubt" to the attacker had been lost.

Now the Premier League, and all the top leagues using VAR, has modified the way it does offside to stop such toenail decisions.

If the line for the attacker and defender overlap, this is now considered to be too close and the attacking player will be judged onside -- no matter if the linesman raised his flag. This change would have protected 19 VAR goal situations from the 2020-21 campaign.

Now when it is so close the lines would touch, a single green "onside" image is broadcast.

Is VAR 100% accurate for offside?
Present technology means it cannot be 100%, which is one of the reasons a tolerance level, or margin of error, has been added. This gives the attacking player around 5cm.

But it does allow officials to make a more informed decision than by using the naked eye in real time.

So why not use a margin for error on tight calls?
MLS has chosen not to use calibrated lines or Hawk-eye technology, instead preferring the naked eye to analyse the freeze frame while looking for anything they categorise as "clearly and obviously wrong." However, other leagues have moved away from this method due to many controversial calls and now use the Hawk-eye tech.

Is the assistant referee instructed to keep his flag down?
The assistant is told to always keep the flag down in clear attacking situations, even if it is obvious. However, there has been a change in guidance for 2021-22 for assistants to raise their flag if the offside is clear and it takes place in a non-threatening area (for instance in a wide area or going away from goal).


Can a VAR review ever lead to a yellow card?
VAR cannot review a yellow card, but it can lead to one. For instance, if a player has deceived the referee to win a penalty the referee may book him for diving after the penalty review. Also, any player who excessively appeals for the use of VAR -- including substitutes -- can be cautioned.

Can a player get a yellow card following a red card review?
A review for a direct red card can result in a yellow card. For example, if there is a review for a high tackle that the VAR believes could be a red card, the referee could decide it is only worth yellow. The correct disciplinary action should always be applied once the referee has visited the review area.

Can a red card be rescinded as well as shown?
If the VAR advises that a player should not have been sent off, the sanction can be downgraded to a yellow or rescinded entirely.

If a decision is overturned, are yellow and red cards quashed?
Only for denying a goal-scoring opportunity or the stopping of a promising attack. Any other cards shown between the infringement and the stoppage of play would stand (dissent, for instance).

Can players appeal against VAR red cards?
Yes, and several players have been successful. The process remains a subjective one, and an appeal panel may decide the red card was unwarranted and cancel any subsequent suspension.

This is not the case in all leagues. For instance, in the Bundesliga it is simply not permitted to appeal against any red card -- whether given in the course of the match or via a VAR reivew.


When will VAR get involved in a penalty kick?
It will only check for an encroaching player who gets directly involved in the outcome -- after a save, or rebound off the post, for example -- and to check that a player has not stuttered his run directly before taking the kick.

Encroaching by outfield players is now only defined by the feet rather than a player's lean forward.

What about a goalkeeper staying on his line?
The law states that a goalkeeper must have one foot on the line when the penalty is struck. This is also enforced by the VAR, but almost all goalkeepers have got this down to a fine art and it is rare for one to step fully off the line when making a save.


What is going on with handball?
There is no doubt that VAR has led to the handball law being applied much more stringently. As such, the IFAB has had to change the law in 2020 and again in 2021 to limit the damaging impact seen over the previous two years.

How has accidental attacking handball changed?
Now accidental attacking handball only applies to the goal scorer. So not to the player who creates the goal, or any other teammate. The handball also has to come immediately before the goal (so a dribble would end the handball offence).

This is a definite improvement and should lead to only a couple of goals being ruled out for handball through VAR each season.

And penalties for handball?
The law around general handball, more commonly an issue inside the penalty area, has also been revised to try and given the decision making back to the opinion of the referee. This follows two seasons which saw the number of penalties rise across all leagues with VAR.

Law 13 on handball now reads: "A player is considered to have made their body unnaturally bigger when the position of their hand/arm is not a consequence of, or justifiable by, the player's body movement for that specific situation. By having their hand/arm in such a position, the player takes a risk of their hand/arm being hit by the ball and being penalised."

Why is it different if the ball comes off a defender's arm?
A defending player can still be adjudged to have accidentally handled the ball, so it is not automatically an offence, creating a two-tier handball law for attackers vs. defenders.