VAR. Howard Webb. Tom Henning Ovrebo. Anthony Taylor. Chris Kavanagh. What do all of these things have in common? An uncanny, almost conspiracy-theory-inducing way of absolutely bending Chelsea over. Up until this week, it had seemed as though some teams (LiVARpool, VARchester United, etc.) had a somewhat obvious advantage in how VAR was applied, but there was nothing tangible to really point to. This matchweek, specifically the farce of a football match that was Chelsea vs Manchester United, changed that. Chelsea were the better side for much of that game, and while that does not necessarily mean that they deserved the win, they indubitably did not deserve to lose by two goals. Harry “I was protecting myself by kicking my legs out” Maguire should have had a shower before the 30 minute mark. Cesar Azpilicueta apparently is incapable of being pushed, only of pushing. The head referee and the VAR official both being Manchester natives apparently is not a conflict of interest in any way, despite the fact that Anthony Taylor literally lives less than six miles from Old Trafford. The analysts saw it immediately, despite the fact that both referees apparently decided the reviews weren’t even worth a second look – both reviews were over in less than 10 seconds. The post-match review was almost entirely focused on excoriating VAR. The fans knew what was happening. They even gave up on Chelsea in the 72nd minute when VAR was actually applied appropriately according to the letter of the law for once (which by the way, is also ridiculous – having a foot be eight centimeters offsides when it wasn’t even used to score should not warrant getting a beautiful goal called back, whether it’s a Chelsea goal or an Arsenal goal). The entire situation showed VAR in an ugly light. It marred what was otherwise a brilliant win for a United team that struggled for much of the game, but it was a result that never should have even occurred – if Maguire, the captain and heart of the Manchester defense, walks off the pitch at 23 minutes, Chelsea win the match by two or three goals.
The bigger problem here, even beyond the utter failure of match officials to referee in a consistent manner (I’ll avoid calling it a conspiracy against Chelsea, even though as a fan I have my doubts), is the negative effect VAR has on both players and fans. Gone are the days when you could simply check to see if the official’s flag was raised before cheering for a goal. Now, fans pause their celebration, wondering if their striker’s shoulders are too wide, causing his armpit to be 1/16th of a centimeter behind the skinny defender’s left foot. Attackers wonder if they should be wearing smaller cleats, lest their big toe be the cause of a goal stricken from the record. Players can be yellow carded for diving, despite obviously having been forced to jump to avoid a shoddy challenge, without even a second’s pause for review (yes, Willian’s yellow card was bulls**t too). The same VAR referee who decided that Heung Min-Son should be red-carded for extending his leg into a player’s chest gets to unilaterally decide that Maguire can plant a heel squarely into Batshuayi’s nether regions without there being an issue.
Anyway, if you’re not a Chelsea fan, the week was pretty interesting, assuming you can move beyond the looming dread that your team will be the next team to fall victim to The Wrath of VAR. Sheffield managed to stay on their improbable course for a Champion’s League spot in the same year that they were promoted, a feat never accomplished by any club. With City’s ban, this paves the way for 5th place to now be a Champion’s League spot for the next two years (because no one honestly believes that City won’t be in the top four next year). Leicester dropped points to the giant killers, who earned a draw in a match that they honestly deserved to win. Tottenham squeaked out a win. Arsenal finally looked like a big six side again, much to the chagrin of my pocketbook. Liverpool also eked out a win against a Norwich City side that looked like they were vying for a top ten spot, not scrambling to claw their way out of relegation. Once again, the FA did its top English clubs no favors by inexplicably forcing them to play important Premier League fixtures just three days before Champions League knockout fixtures, and the efforts put forth by both sides in their Champions League fixtures showed a lack of preparation. Now, it is up to Chelsea and Manchester City to represent England in the Champions League, despite also only getting three and four days of rest, respectively (and against much tougher opposition: the juggernaut that is Bayern Munich, and Real Madrid).
If you’ve made it this far into my article this week, you deserve a rest from the wall of statistics colloquially known as ConnorStats (come on Lee, we need a better title for that section!), so instead we’ll take a look at last week’s pick, which should serve as a harsh reminder that you shouldn’t take my gambling advice, and some picks for this week.
Last matchweek, including the picks on Facebook, saw my picks go two for five. This week, I’m looking at three picks, the latter two of which are very risky. Proceed with caution.
Sheffield United -.5 (-105) versus Brighton. Sheffield has been hot recently, and a home match against a team that has only picked up three points in its last five matches should allow the Blades to win again.
Leicester City +1.0 (-140) versus Manchester City. it’s a gut feeling. Feel free to disregard it, but I think that City will start focusing heavily on their Champions League fixtures the rest of this season, especially in light of the fact that they will not have another chance to do so for two years.
Chelsea -.5 (-145) versus Tottenham. Olivier Giroud gets the start and a brace in a high-scoring affair that sees Lampard complete the double versus his former boss. VAR will make at least one giant blunder in this game, continuing the conversation about whether or not there is a place for VAR next season. Take this whole paragraph to your bookie and see what odds he’ll give you, or ignore the ramblings of the half-witted Chelsea fan who’s still binge-drinking to try to forget the horror of last week. Your call.