Why BVB had powerful VAR luck

While most games on the 22nd matchday of the Bundesliga run smoothly for the referees, the game between 1899 Hoffenheim and Borussia Dortmund involved a technically tricky VAR intervention from which BVB benefited in the end. What speaks for this intervention by the video referee, what against it?

Things had recently become very restless about the referees in the Bundesliga, and they were exposed to some pithy, sometimes irrelevant criticism. The Stuttgart trainer Bruno Labbadia, for example, found that the referees were “dumped” by the video assistants, his Munich colleague Julian Nagelsmann even defamed the referees of his team’s game in Mönchengladbach as “pack”, which earned him a fine of 50,000 euros .

Mainz coach Bo Svensson and Freiburg trainer Christian Streich each received a ban from the bench for unsportsmanlike behavior during the game, followed by a suspension.

It was therefore certainly no coincidence that referee boss Lutz Michael Fröhlich sent some of his most experienced referees to the potentially most explosive games on matchday 22: Felix Brych officiated the encounter between the two Champions League round of 16 teams from Leipzig and Frankfurt (2: 1) , Deniz Aytekin officiated the basement duel FC Schalke 04 – VfB Stuttgart (2:1), Marco Fritz oversaw the top game between FC Bayern Munich and 1. FC Union Berlin (3:0), Daniel Siebert held office in the clash between the for the round of 16 in the Europa League qualified teams from Freiburg and Leverkusen (1:1).

They all solved their tasks silently, carefully and deliberately, and it was undoubtedly a good thing that there were no tricky scenes with potential for discussion in these games. In any case, the Bundesliga weekend was relatively quiet for the referees.

The most demanding and interesting decision in terms of rules came in the encounter between TSG 1899 Hoffenheim and Borussia Dortmund (0:1) in the 50th minute, when referee Martin Petersen called after a duel between Hoffenheim’s Kevin Akpoguma and Emre Can on the edge of the Dortmund penalty area initially decided on a free kick for the hosts.

TSG vs. BVB: free kick, on-field review, referee ball – how can that be?

But then video assistant Daniel Schlager intervened, who recommended an on-field review to the referee. Returning to the pitch, Petersen reversed the free-kick decision and restarted the game with a dropped ball. This surprised many: The VAR is not actually allowed to intervene in the case of a free kick – why did he do it here anyway? And how did the referee ball just outside the penalty area, which was carried out with a Hoffenheim player, explain itself? The responses come from the VAR log, and the whole process consisted of several parts.

VAR Schlager first checked the free-kick decision because the duel between Can and Akpoguma had occurred on the edge of the penalty area and it was conceivable that the contact punished by Martin Petersen had taken place inside the penalty area, which should therefore have resulted in a penalty kick. The referee had told his video assistant – as he explained in two television interviews – that he had noticed Can pushing. The VAR then determined that this contact had taken place inside the penalty area and that there was also contact against Akpoguma’s foot, also in the guests’ penalty area.

Logically, that would have meant that Hoffenheim would have been awarded a penalty. However, by finding that the contact Petersen considered worthy of punishment had taken place in the penalty area, video assistant Daniel Schlager was now faced with another task: he had to assess whether the penalty decision that was now due was clearly and obviously wrong. According to Petersen, the VAR said yes, for whom Can’s usual use of the arm was rightly not a foul play. But since there was also foot contact that the referee didn’t notice, “I decided overall to watch the scene again,” said the referee.

A tricky situation at Hoffenheim vs. Borussia Dortmund

That means: The VAR first checked the alleged crime scene and then the crime itself – and came to the conclusion that instead of the free kick there should actually be a penalty kick, which would be unjustified. Unless his colleague on the field would rate that contact as punishable, which he had not previously noticed. A tricky situation, which the referee solved by deciding after going to the review area: Can’s use of neither his arms nor his feet is illegal, so there is no penalty.

Rather, a dropped ball – because that is the correct way to restart play if the referee comes to the conclusion that the game was stopped by mistake. This dropped ball is executed inside the penalty area with the respective goalkeeper and outside the penalty area with a player from the team that last touched the ball at the place of that contact. In this case it was TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, because Akpoguma had the ball at his feet outside the penalty area when Petersen whistled.

From a technical point of view, the process went correctly: Can’s use of the arm was clearly not a push, so there was no penalty for it. In the case of Can’s foot attack, on the other hand, there was a lot to be said for the assessment as a foul play: The impulse against Akpoguma’s sole led to the Hoffenheim player kicking himself in the other foot and then falling to the ground. However, Martin Petersen had not noticed this impulse. So it’s understandable that he wanted to look at it on the monitor. And it is understandable that he – also with reference to his general line in the duel evaluation in this game – did not rate this contact as punishable.

VAR use at TSG vs. BVB correct in terms of protocol, but problematic

However, outside of the VAR protocol and viewed from the outside, the decision-making process is problematic. Considering Can’s physical use against Akpoguma in its entirety, it is at least ambiguous and obviously wrong to classify it as foul play. If the VAR had therefore only informed the referee that the whistle was not a clear error, but the crime scene was in the penalty area – this finding is a factual finding that, according to the protocol, does not require an on-field review – and that there should therefore be a penalty, would be that was always acceptable.
However, Martin Petersen would have been “unhappy” with this decision, as he said, because it would not have suited his overall generous policy.

This means: The VAR has contributed to the better decision from the referee’s point of view. He kept to the protocol, but the meaning and purpose of the VAR – the intervention in the case of crystal clear errors and serious overlooked incidents – was interpreted here borderline.

However, it should not be ignored that referee Petersen showed a really good game management overall – and that another VAR intervention was undisputed: Nico Schlotterbeck’s kick on the heel of Ihlas Bebou after 56 minutes was a clear foul play. It was therefore correct that the second Dortmund goal scored shortly afterwards was canceled after the intervention of video assistant Schlager. Because it was only through the foul that BVB gained the ball and began the attacking phase, at the end of which Marius Wolf scored in the Hoffenheim goal. There was nothing to criticize about the cooperation between the referee and VAR.

Alex Feuerherdt


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