Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

The most necessary changes aren’t happening

With the start of the Premier League rapidly approaching at the beginning of August, due attention has been given to the litany of summer signings. Preseason friendlies are now beginning. The hope of all fans, especially fellow Reds, is that we will see positive midfield changes with the arrivals of Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai to a team that struggled last term. While these changes are team-focused and obviously very exciting, another form of coming and going needs to be highlighted: RULES.

READ MORE: LFC Need The Old VVD by John Carl Bolido
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Now the 2023-24 season doesn’t have any massive rule changes in the works. There aren’t any rumored adjustments in the future either. That’s worth talking about! The lack of changes by football’s governing bodies is in my opinion, a mistake. In fact, two rules in particular, VAR (Video Assistant Referee) and the changes to the Handball Law both should be looked at again.

VAR

We saw an implementation of new VAR technology by FIFA this past World Cup. 12 semi-automated and dedicated cameras tracked the players on the pitch. This allowed officials to make exact position calculations for players and that information to be relayed to the on-field refs. While there will always be gripes about VAR, it was a clearer system than the hand-drawn lines of the English system. I also don’t think that my opinion is a minority one. The Premier League’s VAR outfit has consistently been abused by pundits, coaches, and players alike. Its oblique use (or non-use) is frustratingly endless.

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Jurgen Klopp has taken aim multiple times at the use of VAR. Following the Aston Villa game last year that saw the Reds’ slim chances to qualify for the Champions League fade away, Klopp was mystified by John Brooks’ answer that an offside call was a “subjective decision.” The call in question was Virgil van Dijk being called off because Villa’s Ezri Konsa hadn’t purposely played the ball and thus it was a deflection. In the same afternoon, VAR brought zero clarity to Tyrone Mings trying to put his boot directly through Cody Gakpo’s chest. The foul was considered dangerous but not enough to warrant a red card. Mings stayed on the field with just a caution.

CHANGES THAT COULD BE MADE TO VAR

“Subjectivity” aside, the World Cup system would vastly improve England’s VAR track record. Transparency in its usage with digital graphics is not a big ask. Just show where players are on the field and in offside instances what parts of their body either broke or didn’t break the line. It is so much clearer than micro-pixel hunting, a chore that Premier League fans have sadly become accustomed to since VAR’s introduction in 2019. I mean, the majority of the time the still frames are so blurred you can only guess whose head, knee, or shoulder is marginally across the crudely drawn line.

In a game where fine margins count, such as the infamous Kyle Walker 11.7mm goalline clearance, squinting at pixels is not up to scratch. Nevertheless, the FA stated that they would not be implementing the World Cup’s technology for the 2023-24 season. Such a shame. VAR has its place, but improvements would be very welcome.

HANDBALL

Before the 2021-22 season, IFAB (International Football Association Board) made changes to the wording of the handball rule. Mike Riley, the managing director of PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Limited) hailed said changes as positive. He went so far as to state that “the handball rule is a difficult law to grapple with.” The rules sought to change two things that make this pesky rule “easier to grapple”: deliberate actions and accidental handballs.

There was an increased emphasis on whether or not a player’s hand/arm was in a natural position or not. What was deemed a “deliberate action” varied from official to official. Also, when an attacking player would accidentally commit a handball before a teammate scored, the goal would stand. If the handball preceded the handballer’s own scoring of a goal, it would not.

CLEAR AS MUD

Both changes were meant to clear up contentious calls up and down the leagues. Instead, varying interpretations and changing points of emphasis from IFAB and the PGMOL have still left us with a “difficult law to grapple with.” Specifically for Reds fans, this has been frustrating. Ruben Dias’ uncalled handball against Everton springs to mind. What is and isn’t an unnatural position was a question posited by thousands. City went on to claim the title that season nullifying some final game heroics by our boys. Yet again, a game of fine margins. Here are a couple of ways where this wishy-washiness has struck Liverpool both good and bad:

Trent Alexander-Arnold’s possible handball right before the opener against Leeds in April 2023. It looked oddly similar to other handball calls throughout the season but Trent was not penalized on this occasion.

Conversely, Diogo Jota’s cross that struck Arsenal’s Gabriel at the Emirates was fervidly waved off by Michael Oliver in a game that LFC would drop points in a 3-2 loss in October 2022.

Either of the above incidents fits perfectly into that murky gray area of “natural position.” The subjective nature of what natural means to any given person at any given point on a soccer pitch makes consistency impossible. And that is all we want from officials right? Consistency! Is it natural to lift your arms in aerial duels? Is putting arms at the side or behind your back a “natural position”? When is the motion intentional rather than accidental? Clear, right? AS MUD.

IT’S NOT JUST THE FANS

We as fans should be the ones confused by intricate law changes. However, the new handball rule has pundits, players, and coaches on our level as well. Alan Shearer, BBC pundit, and Premier League legend, tweeted quite exasperatedly during the RB Leipzig/Man City Champions League affair. “What a pile of s*** the handball rule is. #pathetic” This was after RB Leipzig player Benjamin Henrichs’ arm was brushed by a Rodri header towards goal which saw the Citizens awarded a penalty.

There was a lot of animosity towards Pep and City, but you can’t look past the fact that even those in the game for decades aren’t sure what the rule is anymore. Football genius Pep himself furiously stated as much after Riyad Mahrez’s arm brushed a would-be goal seeing it ruled out in a scoreless draw with Copenhagen. The handball rule is clear…

A FINAL TAKEAWAY TO CHANGES AND NON-CHANGES

We’ll have the Premier League back in less than a month. The state of the league is shifting. Chelsea is unloading nearly a full roster of players. Tottenham has a new coach. City is strengthening as always. Liverpool is putting good steps forward to addressing midfield issues but their depth is about to be sapped by Middle Eastern money. The changes for the 2023-24 season are fresh and exciting. It’s just sad that the very visible issues surrounding VAR and the handball law aren’t part of those changes.

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We think there was a game this weekend as well but the main topic of course is Klopp's farewell
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