THE soccer banter on social media has been working overtime to make sense of Liverpool’s unprecedented Premier League title-run that amazingly sees the Merseysiders 22-points ahead of the current champions and it’s still only February.
What was the keyboard warriors’ main explanation for Liverpool success? The composed performances of goalkeeper Alisson or the defence inspiring tackles of Virgil van Dijk at centre back? No. Sadly, little was achieved by having two full-backs who have more assists between than half the leagues’ teams combined. Was it the work-rate in midfield from Jordan Henderson and James Milner? No way. As for the front three? Well, that goes without saying, how are you going to achieve anything with those mugs?
No, the success enjoyed by the current league leaders is all down to their flagrant abuse and the favouritism shown to them by the Video Assistant Referee, (VAR). So much so that the club has had its name unofficially altered to LiVARpool by the witty wags of the internet.
Relentless victory after relentless victory has irked the fans of opposing clubs, who noted that Liverpool’s amazing run was not about unique skill or quality teamwork, but rather from dark powers working (behind the scenes) on Liverpool's behalf in the VAR hub at Stockley Park.
Counter-arguments that Liverpool have been on the wrong side of as many VAR decisions as those that went in their favour are replied with classic whataboutery and blind devotion to the belief that any VAR decision against their side, 'would have been given if it happened to Liverpool'.
So frequent are these accusations of favouritism, that it got to the stage that even objective observers of the game began to question their facts in the face of the relentless onslaught of VAR accusations.
Even after Wednesday's FA Cup replay, Shrewsbury Town's manager, Sam Ricketts, felt he needed to question the VAR decision to deny his side a goal, by questioning a pro-Liverpool VAR decision in an entirely different match. "How far back in the play do you go before a goal is disallowed? I remember a goal here not too long ago, I think van Dijk handled it on the halfway line."
Ricketts was referring to an incident in the recent Liverpool v Wolves game when VAR deliberated whether the big Dutch defender handled the ball in the lead up to the Liverpool goal. What Ricketts didn't follow on to say was that the video analysis clearly showed van Dijk's hand was nowhere near touching the ball. But that wouldn't help his sense of injustice regarding the VAR decision disallowing his side's goal.
It all adds to the paranoia among the more susceptible of fans. And it reached its zenith last Sunday on BBC Radio 5 Live’s 606 phone-in show where a Man City caller proposed that the only reason Liverpool were racing their way to the title was that the game's new technology was handing it over to them. And so, any Liverpool title would be discredited as it was gained in a corrupt manner. This was no tongue-in-cheek encounter on the radio, the caller vehemently believed his thesis even though it became clear as the interview went on that his ‘facts’ were no more based in reality than the Easter Bunny.
One wonders how the caller dealt with the news the following day that a mid-season survey of VAR in the Premier League threw up some rather contradictory results to the consensus held online that Liverpool are enjoying a free-run at the title by virtue of an establishment conspiracy within the Premier League and FA.
As it turns out, Jurgen Klopp side have had two more VAR decisions, resulting in goals or penalties, go against them than for them throughout the 2019-2020 season. The City caller to 606, could not have known that his club had the same number of decisions go against them thanks to VAR. Along with Chelsea, Spurs, and Wolves.
Interestingly, Burnley are the only team in the league this season to have seen both decisions for them and against them, involving VAR, equal themselves out.
Arsenal, Brighton, Southampton, Norwich City, and Everton had one VAR decision go against them.
Aston Villa and West Ham had three more decisions go against them than for them, which their fans will no doubt feel resulted in their current battle to avoid relegation.
Only five sides have more VAR decisions go there way than against them and four of them: Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, Newcastle United, Watford had just one more decision go their way than against them.
But the surprise finding from the survey showed that the only top-six side to have benefited from the technology was Man United, who also gained the most decisions in the league in their favour with three more favourable than unfavourable VAR decisions.
This will shock many when you consider United’s seventh position in the league as they struggle to claim a Champions League qualifying top-four finish.
At the other end of the scale, Sheffield United and Leicester City are both above United in the Premier League table, despite suffering five goal or penalty decisions against them as a result of VAR.
Indeed, that Liverpool, The Foxes and The Blades are doing so well in the table despite their adverse decisions shows that for all the negative media and fan reactions to VAR, they still are doing better than can be explained by sheer luck. And certainly rules out the conspiracies dreamt up by the tinfoil hat-wearing members of Twitter. Not that many of them will accept the survey’s findings anyway. Such is the world of conspiracy nuts and angry fans.
All that matters though is that any right-thinking person will now know that LiVARpool being set-up to win the league for some nefarious reason by the officials in VAR is ridiculous.
Now the FA Cup, well that’s another thing...