Black and White

Well hello there and welcome to Black and White. This weekly extravaganza is back – not by popular demand – where I will make wild observations about the weekend. The Premier League kicked off this weekend and that meant the debut of VAR. Was it the VARnage we all expected?

VAR – What is it good for?

The fact of the matter is that the majority of the games were unaffected by VAR. Any checks were done speedily and the correct decision was invariably reached. The most fuss was caused at The London Stadium, where Man City’s battering of West Ham was only held up by Stockley Park’s pause and rewind buttons. Firstly, Raheem Sterling was adjudged an armpit offside to see a goal disallowed. Ian Wright was particularly vocal in saying he didn’t think a goal should be overturned over such a small margin but the reality is you are either offside or you aren’t. The sooner players and pundits realise that if VAR says it is offside it undoubtedly will be the better.

We were soon back with the boys at Stockley Park as Sergio Aguero’s lame penalty was saved by Lukasz Fabianski. Initially, there was some bumbling about whether Fabianski has strayed from his line before the kick was taken but the Premier League have already decreed this will be left to the on-field officials to spot. Instead, it was Declan Rice’s encroachment that fell foul of VAR. I do wonder if a penalty will ever be legitimately saved ever again but it’s important to remember that if Fabianski had tipped it round the post there’d be no problem. That should give hope to goalkeepers everywhere.

Wolves saw a goal chalked off but the new rules state if there’s a handball that leads to a goal then it won’t count. Again, any complaints here need to be directed at the rule book rather than VAR. The correct decision was reached.

So we used VAR and the world didn’t end. In fact, it barely changed. Granted we only have a sample of 10 games to go from but the early signs are good. A couple of things do need clarifying though. For example, in a few games, I saw the assistant referee flag for an offside that was borderline at best. Surely these should be left to play on now and the flag should only go up for a very clear offside? Why take the chance? You can be the best official in the world but you aren’t going to be better than a still video.

A few players were booked for simulation as well this weekend. This should really carry a ban now as not only are you bringing the game into disrepute, you’re also incredibly thick. Miguel Almiron’s was particularly blatant and he was rightly booked for it. Even if the referee had been conned, it was going to be reviewed and overturned. I guess they’re habits for players and officials to get out of.

Off to a flier

Onto the actual football and there were few surprises. I can barely remember a season where all the big hitters have hit the ground running so quickly – with the exception of Chelsea who we’ll come onto. I don’t just mean the teams either, but the likes of Salah, Aguero, Kane, Rashford, Aubameyang and Sterling have all made great starts. I think that’s got to be good a good omen for the season ahead, as a neutral in the title race I’d rather see the heavyweights exchanging knockout punches rather than bobbing and weaving if you pardon my amateurish boxing analogy.

I don’t think Chelsea deserved to lose 4-0. They didn’t do enough to win the game by any means but 4-0 makes it look like a hammering. Man Utd only played for a few minutes but were very clinical. I think it’ll be a theme this season where if Man Utd score first they will batter teams on the counter-attack. In some ways it suited them playing a bigger side like Chelsea first up. They were never going to sit back and play for a draw and they left the spaces for the speed demons to attack. It’s Wolves away next week for Man Utd and that’ll be more of a test for where the Red Devils are, in a strange sort of way. Nuno’s men seemed to have Man Utd’s number last season so let’s see if Solskjaer has done enough to turn that particular record around.

What of Chelsea? They looked neat and tidy in the first half but Kurt Zouma was a bag of nerves and his mistake ultimately changed the game. Chelsea have a lot of excellent players but I don’t think they have any world-class players. Eden Hazard pulled them out of the fire a lot last season (and previous seasons) and it doesn’t look like they have anybody in that mould. However, they do have several players with a lot of potential to reach those levels so I hope for Lampard’s sake he is given a pass this season as long as he is developing those players. Tammy Abraham, for example, looked good in flashes but was bullied for large portions of the game. All in all, there’s a puzzle to solve for Lampard but things will look a lot better when Hudson-Odoi and Loftus-Cheek are back in the mix.

Welcome back

Sheffield United, Norwich and Aston Villa all gave good accounts of themselves on their top-flight returns. Only the Blades have a point to show for their efforts but Norwich and Villa faced Champions League opposition and weren’t disgraced, despite some poor defending from the Canaries in particular. All three have nothing to be afraid of and I can see the bottom half of the table being a clustered affair as the season wears on.

That’s all from me this week but I’ll be back next week to see if VAR has ruined everything forever. Or not. Bye for now.