and offsides plummet; ball-in-play time decreases by one minute
In five different matches, injury time was lower than the total VAR-related ball-out-of-play time. Overall offsides drop from one hundred to 59 in these first stages of the competition
By Valmir Storti — Rio de Janeiro
VAR is here to stay, so all that is left for us to do is examine the consequences. In the first three rounds of the Brasileirão (Brazilian National Football Championship), the overall number of fouls dropped, as well as the number of cards awarded, however, the main difference is that assistants are working significantly less: 40% fewer offsides were awarded. Interestingly, although this means fewer downtime, ball-in-play time was lower than last year’s, at which time there was no VAR.
“This is already an impact of VAR. I am very surprised by the significant decrease in offsides and this concerns me, since play is only reviewed if a goal is scored immediately. If there is a foul after an offside that fails to be awarded, this could lead to a goal resulting from an illegal play. Recommendation action is not to raise the flag only in difficult plays. In one-meter offside situations there is no reason not to raise the flag”, Grupo Globo network’s refereeing commentator Sálvio Spínola Fagundes Filho stated.
Generally speaking, in the last six seasons tracked by the Statistical Spy, in each set of ten offsides awarded, linesmen fell short in two, therefore, in theory, awarding fewer offsides would equal fewer mistakes.Of the overall 59 offsides awarded in these first stages of the Brasileirão, the Statistical Spy verified that 54 of them were righteously awarded, whereas five were wrongly awarded (9%). Camera positions and long balls by the defense, in which cases forwards fail to appear on the screen, are some of the issues that hinder adequate assessments on linesmens’ effectiveness. Of the one hundred awarded in the first three rounds in 2018, the Spy assessed 85, and 17 were poorly awarded (20%). Linesmen are adversely affecting fewer attacking plays, nevertheless, the issue is whether forwards will now end up gaining an advantage whenever clear offsides fail to be awarded.
Another significant change in the game relates to the number of fouls, which decreased 9% compared to last year’s first three rounds. The number of fouls had been falling each year, however, last year recorded a 4% increase at the start of the competition as opposed to the previous year. Now, these figures are dropping again.
Moreover, the decrease in number of fouls led to fewer card sanctions, which can also be deemed good news. However, this is dependent upon what caused this cut in sanctions: is the game becoming fairer, as can be expected due to VAR’s oversight, or will referees become increasingly lenient towards offenses?
When only cards resulting from fouls are computed (failing to take into account delaying play intentionally, goal celebrations, player disputes when the match has already been stopped, complaints and diving), we notice that the number of fouls required for a card to be shown is on the rise. From an average of one card per seven fouls (2015 and 2016), this figure rose to an average of one card (yellow or red) per ten (2017) or nine (2019) fouls. Either referees have become more lenient or athletes have adjusted well and learned how to foul successfully. With a drop in the number of fouls and cards, one would expect ball-in-play time in matches to increase.
When VAR did not exist, average injury times at the end of each half were greater than the times being accounted for at the 2019 Brasileirão.
Of the 30 matches played so far in the Brasileirão, 22 of them (73%) were stopped at some stage for a play to be reviewed. There were 14 matches (47%) with VAR-related match interruptions in the first half, and in 13 of these incidents or 93% of situations, the injury time added at the end of the first half was lower than in previous years, when after computing match time lost due to video assistant referee, VAR interrupted 18 matches (60%) at some stage in the second half, and when match times lost due to VAR were computed, in 13 of them injury times added at the end of matches were lower than averages recorded in the last couple of years.
“In regards to the total match playing time, injury times are not being considered, and VAR’s goal is not being reached”, Grupo Globo’s refereeing commentator Paulo César de Oliveira stated.
In the 30 matches, there were 43 play interruptions for VAR to review. In five matches, VAR-related match interruption time was greater than injury time, when failing to take into account fouls and other interruptions. This happened in three first-halves and two second-halves in different matches. In the Atlético-MG 2-1 Avaí clash, match was interrupted for 6min26s, however, the injury time was 4min57s. In the remaining incidents, the difference is less than one minute, but it is worth pointing out that we are only considering VAR. Other usual match interruptions also took place, such as substitutions, fouls, penalty kicks, etc. Common sense states that a second half’s injury time would amount to at least four minutes, in addition to VAR-related match time lost. Nevertheless, this was not the case.
“Some of VAR’s goals include increasing ball-in-play times and numbers of goals scored, as well as decreasing foul numbers. Here in Brazil we introduced the role of a VAR protocol supervisor who is in charge of measuring the overall match time lost and letting officials know how much time needs to be added due to use of VAR”, Grupo Globo’s refereeing commentator Sandro Meira Ricci said.
Consequently, in this year’s first three rounds the average ball-in-play time ended up decreasing by one minute compared to last year, and the percentage of total playing time dropped two percentage points from 58% in 2018 to 56% in 2019. As Sandro Meira Ricci says, “it’s just the beginning of the championship, there is time to get back on track”.
*The Statistical Spy team is comprised of: Caio Tatesawa, Guilherme Maniaudet, Guilherme Marçal, Leandro Silva, Roberto Maleson and Valmir Storti.