LONDON: VAR has been good news for fair play but bad news for Manchester City. Pep Guardiola’s men were denied a last-minute winning goal against Tottenham in last season’s Champions League quarter-finals and again in the Premier League on Saturday.
The incident also underlined the confusion caused by the lawmaking IFAB’s decision to treat handball differently around the goal to the rest of the pitch.
The video referee’s annulment of a ‘goal’ by Raheem Sterling in April knocked City out of Europe’s top competition. Saturday’s denial of a strike by Gabriel Jesus did not have such immediate consequences.
City drew 2-2 with Spurs rather than beating them 3-2 and this was only the second round of the season. But the decision will rebound on City if the title race next May is as tight as last season when they finished one point clear of Liverpool.
The champions dominated the match. City had 30 shots to Tottenham’s three. They led twice after the superb Kevin De Bruyne created first-half goals for Sterling and Sergio Aguero. However, the goals were cancelled out by Erik Lamela and by Lucas Moura with his first touch as a substitute.
Gabriel Jesus was then denied two minutes into stoppage time before his effort was ruled out by referee Michael Oliver. VAR was not responsible alone. Another key factor was the IFAB law change which prohibits any sort of handball in the penalty area. A right-wing cross only brushed off the arm of Aymeric Laporte but that was a touch too much.
In the Champions League duel City were denied not only over the Sterling decision but because Fernando Llorente had scored an ultimately decisive goal after the ball hit his arm.
Guardiola was comparatively restrained over this second twist of fate. He said: “We are always going to live this season in this situation. Last season it was offside, this time it was handball. The decision is made in London [the VAR control centre] so there’s nothing I can do or say about it.
“We could do with more consistency. If that was hands by Laporte why was Llorente not hands last season? There was no penalty when the ball hit Andreas Christensen on the arm when Chelsea played Liverpool in midweek. I also thought we should have had a penalty when Lamela fouled Rodrigo in the area. The VAR people must have been having a cup of coffee at that moment.”
Guardiola, amid his disappointment, did make his peace with Aguero. The two men squabbled on the touchline after the Argentinian was substituted despite having scored his record-extending 233rd goal for City. Guardiola said: “It was a misunderstanding. Sergio was upset because he thought I blamed him for their second equaliser.”
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino was delighted with the result but had some sympathy for Guardiola. He said: “Personally I still love to watch games from long ago when the referee was the boss but things have moved on. We are in the age of VAR.”