By Christopher Winn, Programme Leader for MSc Football Business

It’s an image many Premier League fans are becoming increasing accustomed to.

Despite being so new to the English top flight, a world without the use of video technology now seems a distant memory, and having been trialled in the FA and League Cups over the previous two seasons, the Video Assistant Referee System (VAR) is now very much here to stay in the Premier League.

VAR only intervenes when a clear and obvious error has been made, or a serious incident missed, across four key categories: goals and penalties, straight reds and cases of mistaken identity. Indeed, the VAR philosophy in the Premier League is one of ‘minimum interference – maximum benefit’- employing a ‘higher threshold’ of review and intervention to protect referees’ from making serious errors alone.

Like any new technology though, it will also take time to perfect its use. It has recently been disclosed that as of mid-September, VAR had failed to act on four clear and obvious errors, including two penalties that should have been awarded, a goal that should have been disallowed and a red card that should have been shown. But equally, this represents less than 2% of the VAR checks made so far.

As at the end of Matchweek 7, 14 goals had been awarded and then subsequently ruled out by VAR, with a further two goals awarded by VAR having initially been disallowed by the on-field referee team.

Which led us to ask the question – what would the Premier League table look like in a world without VAR?

Granted, theories such as the Butterfly Effect mean this is no precise science, but with almost 20% of the season already played out, the application of VAR to goal decisions has already tangibly impacted 90% of Premier League teams, and had Newcastle’s goal in their 1-1 draw with Watford in Matchweek 4 been correctly disallowed by VAR, this would extend to 100% even at this early stage of the season.


This analysis showed that had VAR not intervened in goal decisions in the Premier League up to the end of Matchweek 7:

  • The gap between the top two teams, Liverpool and Manchester City, would narrow from five points to just one point, with Liverpool losing their 100% record;
  • West Ham would replace Arsenal in the fourth Champions League spot, with Leicester maintaining their grip on third;
  • Newcastle and Watford would be unchanged in position, points and goal difference, coincidentally currently occupying 19th and 20th respectively;
  • Manchester United would climb four places from 10th to 6th, the greatest increase in position;
  • Southampton would fall four places from 14th to 18th, the greatest fall in position, having seen three goals disallowed against them across their seven games to date. This also results in the greatest swing in goal difference across the Premier League teams (-3);
  • No team would be better or worse off by more than two points at this relatively early stage of the season.

As such, the introduction of VAR has already had a moderate impact on the face of the Premier League table. Extrapolating these results suggests that come next May, a VAR-less Premier League table may look very different to the one in reality, and we will continue to track these movements over the course of the season.