VAR and Football Betting in 2021 – What Lies Ahead?

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Ever since VAR was introduced to English football at the start of 2019/20 Premier League season, it has had a profound effect on the betting scene. An advanced piece of technology that was supposed to reduce controversy and increase fairness for all teams seems to be doing everything but that. So, just how is VAR affecting the betting experience? And what measures are betting sites taking to counter this?

Best Betting Sites We Recommend for VAR Betting in 2021

SportNation
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  • Applies to Premier League games
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What Is VAR?

The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) refers to the match official whose job is to review the decisions made by a match referee. It has access to all cameras in stadiums, including those which feature slow-motion replays, and is therefore able to see the run of play from all angles.

Together with the VAR is an Assistant Video Assistant Referee (AVAR) and a Replay Operator (RO), who assist in making decisions. The team operates remotely from a specialised VAR hub, and are able to contact the referee through a dedicated earpiece.

VAR is currently used for four categories of potentially match-changing decisions, which include events leading to a goal/no goal (e.g. fouls, offsides, handballs), events leading to a penalty/no penalty (e.g. fouls, location of fouls, incorrect decisions), red cards (e.g. violent conduct, denying a goal scoring opportunity, using offensive language/gestures), or cases of mistaken identity (when the referees award yellow or red cards).

 

How Does VAR Work?

When a questionable decision relating to one of the above categories is made, the VAR team will automatically assess the incident from every angle. If no error is seen, there will not be any further action taken. This is referred to as a silent check as it causes no delays to the game, and the players and viewers will not even be aware that is has taken place.

When VAR does notice that a potential error has taken place, the referee is informed through his earpiece, and an on-field review (OFR) can take place. This involves the referee consulting a pitch side monitor to review video footage of the action. If there has been an error, the referee will draw a rectangle with his arms, signalling that the original decision has been reversed.

In VAR’s first Premier League season, the lion’s share of decisions was made by VAR officials, with the referee discouraged from making an on-field review. However, after a series of complaints, the Premier League announced a number of changes would be implemented going forward.

VAR Premier League

Source: Yammer House

 

VAR Changes as From the 2021/22 Season

After the first two seasons in the premier league, the guidelines determining how VAR should be used are set for yet another update. Here is what’s new:

Offside Calls

VAR has been using a 1-pixel wide line when plotting the offside lines, and this has led to many millimetric decisions which have left fans baffled.

After discussions with clubs, players and managers, this forensic-like approach is set to change, as the VAR will now be using wider lines (as normally used in TV broadcasting) to decide whether a player is offside or not, thus giving some benefit of the doubt to attacking players.

As many as 20 goals would have stood had this interpretation been used during the previous season. One of those goals was Jordan Henderson’s stoppage time goal in the Merseyside derby, which was disallowed as Sadio Mane was ruled offside by a whisker.

Everton v Liverpool VAR check

Source: Goal Twitter

Penalty Calls

Penalties will no longer be awarded for the slightest of contacts in the box. Football is a contact sport, and the refereeing association has made sure to highlight that with this change. This will help decrease the risk of attacking players going down easily as soon as contact is felt – or worse, when they go into the box looking for contact.

The notion that penalties will only be given if a player goes down will also be challenged as VAR will be instructed to look at (i) the nature of contact, (ii) the consequence of contact and (iii) the intention of attackers.

During the 2020/21 season, a record 125 penalties were awarded (29 of which were a result of VAR decisions). This change means that soft penalties, like the one awarded to Marcus Rashford after Jamal Lewis barely touched him in their clash in October 2020, will hopefully become less frequent in the Premier League.

Accidental Handballs

Previously, a ball touching a player’s arm would most probably have been considered an offence, thus requiring play to be stopped. As from the 2021/22 season, purely accidental touches will not be penalised as harshly, and play may be allowed to continue without pausing.

Backing Into Jumping Players

This is something which has led to a number of controversial fouls, where attacking players might back into a jumping defender to try and win a free kick or penalty. The new interpretation will not consider this as a foul by defender, but rather as a foul by the attacker, as it might result in the jumping player losing his balance. Once again, the determining factor will be the player’s perceived intention.

 

Previous Changes to VAR

The above were not the only changes to the VAR rules since the start. Following a controversial debut season, the Premier League decided that VAR would run in line with FIFA VAR protocol during the 2020/21 season. This led to several key changes in the way VAR is implemented, as seen below.

Increased Use of Pitch-Side Monitors
Throughout the first season, to the dismay of many, referees only referred to pitch side monitors a handful of times. Now, referees were encouraged to look at pitch side monitors for decisions relating to goals, red cards and penalties. Crucially, this gave the on-pitch referee the final say on any controversial decisions, rather than him simply taking the advice of a voice from Stockley Park.
No More Encroachment
VAR was needed to play a central role in implementing a zero-tolerance policy with regards to encroachment during penalties. Firstly, this meant that if a goalkeeper saves a penalty without one foot being planted on the line when it was taken, then the penalty will be subsequently retaken. Moreover, if players encroach upon the penalty area before the ball is kicked, they will be penalised if they are involved in the rebound – such as scoring or clearing the ball.
Offside Calls
Assistant referees were expected to start keeping their flags down during any immediate goalscoring opportunities, even if they deem the player to be offside. When the passage of play ends, they were free to raise their flags. In the case of a goal being scored, VAR were to review the decision and overturn it if necessary. This was done to help reduce as much human error as possible.

 

How Has VAR Affected Betting?

The main issue in relation to VAR and betting is that VAR disrupts the betting process. Operators have been working hard to reduce time that bets are suspended after a goal/red card is awarded; the introduction of VAR has disrupted this process, and can potentially even go on to discourage some punters from engaging in in-play betting.

When VAR was first introduced, betting sites were not adequately prepared and ended up being hit quite badly. This is because whenever there was a goal in-play, betting sites would pay out to their customers as per usual, only for the goal to be overturned.

A classic example of this happened with SkyBet in August 2019 in a match between Tottenham and Manchester City. In the closing stages of the match, the teams were tied 2-2 when Gabriel Jesus scored what was believed to be the winning goal. Much to the frustration of City fans, this decision was later overturned by VAR – however, not before thousands of punters who had bet on City to win decided to cash out their bets.

The match proved to be very costly to SkyBet, who then proceeded to take a defensive stance and have begun suspending in-play betting markets until a VAR decision is made. Nowadays, all online bookies suspend the market as soon as there’s any suggestion that VAR will be used.

Perhaps the biggest impact VAR has had is on the flow of the game. Matches are frequently halted so that the referees at Stockley Park can review a possible infringement, and many have complained that this is a momentum killer for the team on top. This is an additional factor for punters to consider while sizing up their in-play bets.

How Have Betting Sites Responded to VAR?

grosvenor sports var refund

Initially, betting sites were also not quick to address the changes happening to pre-match betting markets as a result of VAR. Since decisions are scrutinised now more than ever before, there is a greater chance of a penalty or red card being awarded.

Many companies overlooked this and left these odds unchanged, paving the way for savvy punters to take advantage of this and increase their winnings. Eventually, the bookmakers realised what was happening, and the odds in these markets are now lower than they used to be.

Other betting operators have introduced VAR specific promotions in a bid to attract the ever-growing number of frustrated punters. For example, at the time of writing, SportNation will refund your stake if a winning goal is disallowed by VAR,  and Grosvenor Sports will do the same if your Premier League or Champions league goal scorer bet is ruined by a VAR decision.

When it comes to exchange betting, Betfair has also had to make some changes to the way it operates and now puts a strong emphasis on voiding bets. The betting site states that if a goal is cancelled or retrospectively awarded following a VAR review, then “bets matched between the time of the goal being scored and the time at which the video assistant referee review is concluded will be voided.”

Additionally, if a red card or penalty is awarded retrospectively as a result of VAR, “only bets matched after the time at which the video assistant referee commences the review will be voided.” All this voiding involves a lot of very precise timing and work from Betfair, and unfortunately is likely to result in longer suspended bet times, which at this point does seem to be unavoidable.

One such way that betting companies could improve their response to VAR is by putting more of an emphasis on traders. Currently, betting sites use special models and algorithms to assign their odds. The problem with this is that a computer model cannot predict if a VAR decision is likely to take place.

A trader or odds compiler, on the other hand, would be able to tell if the referee has made the wrong decision, and make the necessary changes to the odds before a VAR decision is even called. With ever increasing delays and suspended markets, the return of traders might prove invaluable.

 

VAR’s 20/21 Premier League Impact

After last season, ESPN published another similar report on the impact VAR had on the season.

This time round the results were even greater, with a total of 128 goals or incident which were affected by VAR. 34 decisions led to goals being allowed, while 42 decisions wrote off goals after the ball hit the back of the net. 29 penalties were awarded (of which 6 ended up being missed), while 22 penalty decisions taken on the pitch were overturned. 3 penalties had to be retaken due to goalkeeper encroachment.

Out of the 42 disallowed goals, 32 goals for ruled out for offside, six for handball and another three were ruled out for a foul. Seven goals were awarded after being signalled as offside by the assistant referees.

VAR was also involved in a shocking 17 direct red card decisions, while it also helped in overturning 2 red cards.

12 of the 29 penalties awarded after VAR involvement were for handball offences. This number might decrease over the next years as the new VAR changes come into play.

How Did VAR Affect the Individual Teams?

Overall, the worst-hit teams by VAR decisions in the 2020/21 season were Arsenal, West Brom and Liverpool, with a net of six decisions taken against them after the Gunners and West Brom had 12 decisions overturned and Jurgen Klopp’s men had 18 VAR interventions. Of the three, Liverpool probably had it worst as they had 13 decisions going against them, with seven of them being goals disallowed.

Naturally, all decisions have a benefitting party and it turns out that overall, Burnley and Everton were affected best with a net of four decisions going in their favour. Brighton were the team to have the most favourable decisions with nine; however, they then had eight decisions go against them, leaving them with one single net favourable decision.

With the changes in VAR guidelines for the 2021/22 season, we are expecting to see less goals disallowed for offside and less penalties awarded through VAR decisions.

 

VAR’s Initial Premier League Impact

Following a year packed with controversial refereeing decisions, punters and fans were eager to quantify VAR’s impact on the most followed league in the world. VAR was no longer a completely unknown quantity. The data behind VAR’s inaugural campaign clearly showed its impact, and as the years go by, the match-changing decisions taken thanks to VAR will continue to be compared and scrutinised by many.

  • According to an ESPN report, a total of 109 goals or incidents were influenced by VAR in its first season. There were 109 decisions overturned
  • 27 of those led to goals, while 56 resulted in disallowed goals. VAR also awarded 22 penalties, which originally were not given by the referee, and cancelled nine that were. Furthermore, four penalties were retaken due to encroachment.
  • A total of 34 goals were ruled out for offside (some of these only by a hair’s breadth!) and eight goals were awarded after being wrongly being called offside. A further 14 goals were chalked off for handball, and two goals were given after incorrect handball decisions. Nine red cards were handed out by VAR, while two were overturned.
  • If we turn our heads to VAR’s impact on specific teams, the data shows us that Brighton and Hove Albion benefitted mostly from VAR decisions, followed closely by Manchester United. On the other end of the spectrum, Norwich, Wolves and Sheffield United seem to be the most hard done by because of this new technology.

There are some key takeaways from these numbers. Firstly, the net result of VAR interventions meant that seven extra red cards were dished out. This could imply that, while referees might have erred on the side of caution and given a yellow in the past, VAR is not as forgiving. A similar argument can be made for penalties. With a net gain of 13 penalties, there’s a suggestion that referees might be pointing to the spot more often than we’ve become accustomed to.

Of course, all these stats need to be taken with a pinch of salt. VAR is still very much at the trial-and-error stage, and more changes are set to be implemented during the new season.

 

Tips for Taking Advantage of VAR

To take advantage of VAR, you need to be quick and be able to make important decisions in an instant. We have compiled some betting tips for making the most of this technology.

  • 01
    Be Attentive
    If there is a blatantly obvious penalty decision which the referee has not seen and the play moves on, you can predict that VAR will intervene as soon as the ball goes out of play. In this way, you can confidently bet on who will score the next goal and increase your chances of getting a good win.
  • 02
    Make Use of Var-Impacted Markets
    As seen above, there is evidence from last season suggesting the influence of VAR on penalties and cards. Firstly, opting for a bookie that offers these markets, such as bet365 or Unibet, is a smart move. Secondly, if you feel there is an impact, take advantage before the rest of the world catches on.
  • 03
    Predict the Momentum Swings
    As discussed earlier, there have been many instances where VAR played a key role in shifting momentum. Whether it is a goal disallowed, a penalty overturned, or a red card rescinded, these big calls can have a big impact on the morale of a team. For example, if a team scores a goal which is overturned for a soft foul or a marginal offside, will this encourage or dishearten them? It is up to you as the punter to decide.

 

Is VAR Ruining Football?

Since its introduction, VAR has been criticised heavily for a multitude of reasons by players, managers and the public alike. Firstly, the system greatly affects the flow of the game. With so many VAR interruptions now taking place in each match, it is no wonder than people get frustrated when a good run of a form in a match is scuppered by VAR delays.

From the crowd’s point of view, VAR also affects the atmosphere in a stadium. When a check is taking place, the spectators are at a loss as to which way the decision is looking to go, often resulting in a quiet, tense atmosphere. What starts as a loud, noisy stadium can often end up much more diminished following constant interruptions of play.

With more goals being disallowed in each match than ever before, many people who go to a match hoping to see many goals areeffectively paying money to watch decisions being overturned.

Wariness of VAR technology does not only lie on British soil. In the Italian Serie A, there is a strong perception that bigger, more popular clubs get more decisions referred to VAR, while in the German Bundesliga, fans are complaining that the tool is being heavily overused.

The strongest criticism of VAR, however, is probably the simplest of all – VAR is still making incorrect decisions and not being consistent in its use. A big factor for this is rooted in the fact that decisions are ultimately made by people, and human error is impossible to avoid.

Wherever a line is placed on a pitch, there is always going to be a marginal decision to be made, and the variations in subjectivity from different VAR referees is proving to be a constant source of frustration on each match day. It is clear to see that VAR has not reduced the controversy in the game, but has instead added to it.

Naturally, people are always going to be most vocal when a decision goes against what they were hoping for, and you will rarely hear someone criticising VAR when a ruling is made in their team’s favour. This being said, the changes coming into play as from the 21/22 season will hopefully help the Premier League mimic the atmosphere in the EURO 2020, where there seemed to be very little controversy around VAR due to the way it was used.

 

VAR And Football Betting FAQs

 📺When was VAR introduced?

The use of VAR was first approved for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. In the Premier League, VAR started to be used at the start of the 2019/20 season.

❓ Why was VAR introduced?

Following constant controversies across the globe, where referees were making serious errors in their decisions, the International Football Association Board felt the need to bring in an advanced system which could spot and correct clear and obvious errors.

🔵 Where are VAR referees located?

The VAR team is located at the VAR Hub at Stockley Park, West London.

⏳ When is VAR used?

VAR is used for “clear and obvious errors” in the following match-changing situations: goals, penalty incidents, direct red-card incidents, and cases of mistaken identity.

🔐  Which competitions use VAR?

All major leagues around the world, as well as continental and international team competitions such as the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Euro 2020 Championship, have also made use of VAR technology.

 

ThePuntersPage Final Say

VAR is the biggest change to the game in a generation and has proved to be a bit of a headache for both punters and betting sites.

We’ve heard many pundits, fans and managers state that VAR is killing football and ruining the spectacle, and with so much on the line, these comments are understandable. There’s no doubt about the good that VAR can bring to the table, but till now, it has dominated the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

It is therefore crucial that the people at the top learn from their mistakes, and fast. With so many bookies offering different football betting features, it can be a challenge to choose the bookmaker that is right for you – so we’ve gone ahead and ranked the best online football betting sites, making this process easier and less time-consuming for our readers.

From a punting perspective, we hope that in time, the duration that in-play markets are suspended will be reduced and that more betting sites will provide VAR betting markets, as these present a good way for punters to get involved in the VAR action. Whether you like it or loathe it, this piece of technology is here to stay. All we can do is try to make it work in our favour.