Tuesday, January 19, 2021

EPL GW1 Three Things We Learned

The EPL GW1 is here and each game week we’ll run the rule over the action and pick out our three biggest points. It’s been a long hot summer with no football, and finally, we’re back down to business.

VAR Is Going To Cause Some Debate

I have long been a proponent of VAR in football. Video review has a place in every single sport that I watch, from the NFL to MLB, NHL, NBA, NRL, and even MLS. What could possibly go wrong with bringing the correct decisions to the Premier League?

Quite a lot it turns out. The fundamental concern I had going in was the amount of time it takes to make a decision: 82 seconds in GW1. That’s just silly. If we at home can see from the very first replay what the result will be, you don’t need to take nearly 90 seconds to figure it out.

“The question you ask yourself isn’t, ‘what do I think is the right outcome?’. It’s, ‘has the on-field match referee made a clear and obvious error?’


“In real terms, in a live game, you’ll have a referee describing what he has seen and explaining why he has come to that conclusion. The VAR uses that information and the pictures that he has, and puts it through the prism of, ‘is that a clear and obvious error?'”

Mike Riley, PGMOL

In preparation for VAR, the FA announced that there would be a “high bar” for overturning decisions and that VAR would overturn “clear and obvious errors”. But is that what we saw? We saw some knee-high tackles not raised to reds, which would definitely fit these criteria.

But what about Raheem Sterling’s 1.4cm offside goal against West Ham? Was that clear and obvious? Can the VAR really pinpoint to the millisecond when the ball left the players foot? It’s a minefield when you get down to these fine margins. Especially when your standard is a clear and obvious error.

The same is true for the new handball rule. This is a rule that is bound to come up time and again this season. And judging from the interpretation on Wolves potential game-winner against Leicester this could be the rule that dominates this season.

EPL GW1 : Wolves Wily Boly falls foul of new handball rule as the ball ricochets onto his arm. © AP Photo
EPL GW1 : Wolves Wily Boly falls foul of new handball rule as the ball ricochets onto his arm. © AP Photo

Just to be clear, if a goal is scored in the same move where a handball has occurred, even if accidental, the goal will be disallowed. No if’s and’s or but’s. It’s black and white, and it’s crazy. And it doesn’t have to be a clear and obvious error either, it can be subtle, it can be a minor grazing of the arm.

Remember Tottenham’s winner against City in the Champions League Quarterfinal last season? That goal would now be disallowed. As would a hatful of goals from the EPL last season.

Now I still believe VAR will do well in football and has to. Getting correct decisions on goals is vital to the continued success of games. However, I’m not sure they currently have their ducks in a row. You can’t have different standards for different VAR decisions.

This will rumble on all season, and we’ll try not to have it as a topic every week…but we make no promises.

Norwich Are Going To Struggle

After winning promotion in style last season, Norwich were given probably the second-toughest possible opening fixture: away to Liverpool. So expectations weren’t high. But what we saw was both eye-opening and perplexing.

Several times in the opening half Norwich got in behind Liverpool. The right channel of the scousers defense looked suspiciously wide open as Trent Alexander-Arnold seemingly decided he would prefer not to defend, or trackback and would leave that side of the pitch completely open.

While this made Norwich look creative, it wasn’t necessarily all good news. Their finishing in the first half was appalling. They could easily have had 4 goals, instead, they had none. But again, this is Liverpool away. A second-half Teemu Pukki goal would be all they could muster at the top of the pitch.

Defensively however they were horrendous. If Liverpool were open down the right side of their defense, Norwich were out of the country. It was almost embarrassing to watch the new boys getting carved open time and again by an under-par Liverpool.

EPL GW1: Salah Squanders a glorious chance against Norwich ©  Michael Regan/Getty Images
EPL GW1: Salah Squanders a glorious chance against Norwich © Michael Regan/Getty Images

Now, this is EPL GW1, so it’s not time to panic…yet. But if this continues Norwich could threaten the record for most goals conceded in a season. It’s not a skill thing, at least it wasn’t this week. It was a lack of positional discipline and game understanding.

It could all come together for them quickly. This was a really tough opener for anyone, and the EPL is a completely different pace to the Championship. But it is a worrying opening for the Norfolk boys.

Raheem Sterling Looks A Banker For Player Of The Year

Once the most polarising player in English football Raheem Sterling lit the world on fire in EPL GW1. It was a master class of pace, positioning, and clinical finishing.

After his horrendously orchestrated departure from Anfield what seems a lifetime ago, Sterling has struggled to establish himself as a great player. Everyone remembers the ego, the desire for silverware, and money. The wages he earned, the missteps along the way, the poor performances at the biggest moments.

EPL GW1: Raheem Sterling inspires City to 5-0 win @ London Stadium © Getty images
EPL GW1: Raheem Sterling inspires City to 5-0 win @ London Stadium © Getty images

But that only makes this story more compelling. Weaker people would have wilted, they would’ve gone on to lead average careers. Not Sterling. He has risen to the top and now looks unplayable at times.

All this against the backdrop of the resurgence of racism in football grounds across Europe. At a time when it would be so easy for him to shrink and play within himself, he has elevated his game to the highest echelons.

Even when he was on a hattrick and City were awarded a penalty there were no histrionics from him. He accepted Aguerro’s decision to take the penalty. He is a team player and a leader by example. On and off the pitch.

Sterling would go on to complete his hattrick anyway. Because that’s the player he has become.

Before you ask, I am not a City fan. But you don’t need to be to recognise the immense improvements that Raheem Sterling has made. You just need to be a football fan.

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