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VAR works well, but is it what we want?

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Video Assistant Referees (VAR) are coming to the Premier League for the 2019-20 campaign as the system is finally being adopted by England’s top-flight.

But is VAR what we really want? The jury remains out. Big time.

VAR has been used in Major League Soccer for years, rolled out across Europe’s other top leagues over the past few seasons and was a revelation at the 2018 World Cup.

But, and there is always a but with VAR, its arrival is getting us all to ask a huge internal question about the beautiful game: is this what we really want? Should every minute detail be scrutinized a la the NFL? Is this the direction we want to head in?

Whether we like it or not, that is the direction we are heading in. The system is being used in the FA Cup and League Cup in England this season, and in the knockout round of the UEFA Champions League for the first time. It is something we are going to hear a lot more about in the coming weeks and months.

Like any change in system there are positives and negatives.

Positive: I attended the Southampton versus Derby County FA Cup third round replay on Wednesday. Derby had one goal which looked perfectly fine ruled out via VAR, and one goal stood which looked offside. Both calls were correct when the replays were shown and there was tension in the stadium as the referee waited to announce the decision. It was all rather smooth and, most importantly, the correct decisions were made.

Negative: The fact that Derby were denied a wonderful team goal due to the heel of their striker being offside seems totally against the spirit of the game, and so to does Jack Stephens‘ right heel playing four players onside for Derby’s first goal. When you zoom in and slow down the footage, you can see that the decisions are technically correct. But there is an argument to be made that VAR is taking things too far.

Chants of “VAR, VAR” were heard by both sets of fans as youngsters made the square hand gesture as they called for VAR to be used time and time again. It is fun now, because it is new, but in a few years time we may all look down in the pub as we swill the remnants of a pint and say something along the lines of: “I miss the old days before VAR.”

Referees and linesman will probably miss it too, because their role in the game will still be important but their responsibility is diminished.

The debates will continue about certain decisions with or without VAR. Take the Harry Kane penalty kick against Chelsea in the League Cup for example. Was that incident a “clear and obvious” error? That is what VAR is supposed to be used for and that is where the gray area still exists.

When VAR was used at St Mary’s a message was displayed on the big screens saying a goal was being checked, or a possible penalty decision was being looked at. It all worked quite well and certainly added drama to proceedings. Could replays be shown live on the big screens at stadiums in Premier League grounds to offer greater transparency to fans and players? Or would that cause riots if the VAR images were still inconclusive? It is a tricky tightrope to walk.

VAR will get the vast majority of decisions correct, but how often it is used and how heavily referees rely on it will determine if the system is going to be successful long-term.

We are about to find out if VAR is here to stay and if it is what we really want.

Right now, there is no going back.

Hasenhuttl “unbelievably proud” of Southampton’s warriors

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Ralph Hasenhuttl hailed his 10-man Southampton side for digging deep to win away at Leicester City and drag themselves out of the relegation zone. 

Saints were 2-0 up at half time but had Yan Valery sent off in the 45th minute, putting them up against it in the second half. Leicester had 85 percent possession and 19 attempts at goal in the second period, but scored just once as Saints put in a valiant defensive display to secure a huge three points.

Speaking after the game, Hasenhuttl praised the mentality of his players and suggested they rather enjoyed the challenge.

“The second half was getting in the same compact with the defense and to try to defend,” Hasenhuttl said. “This manner and mainly the passion and the mentality was the winner of this game today. I thought we got too early 2-1, so it would be a long time then to get something here. The players enjoyed it. They felt the way we defend it is very difficult for the opponents to score. The longer the game went on, the more stable we were.”

Hasenhuttl also told BBC’s Match of the Day that he is “unbelievably proud” of his players.

“To be manager of this team, it’s a fantastic job,” Hasenhuttl said. “Today they showed their quality. To go 2-0 in the lead at Leicester is not easy and we defended with fantastic commitment.”

This feels like a massive moment in Southampton’s season.

Saints have dropped more points from winning positions than any other team in the Premier League this season but their players stood up to the challenge and were calm despite being pegged back to 2-1 with over 30 minutes remaining. Jan Bednarek, Oriol Romeu, Long, Jannik Vestergaard and Jack Stephens were all impressive as they made sure Hasenhuttl will have a selection dilemma in the weeks to come.

They were without regulars Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Charlie Austin (both suspended), Danny Ings, Michael Obafemi, Mario Lemina, Ryan Bertrand (all injured) and Maya Yoshida (on international duty at the Asian Cup) and had eight players from their famed academy in their 18-man squad. Callum Slattery made his Premier League debut as a sub, while Sam Gallagher played his first minutes of the PL season late on as Hasenhuttl’s squad was stretched to the limit.

No matter who was out there Saints’ players showed they are fighting for their new manager, and Hasenhuttl has now won three of his first seven PL games as Southampton manager. That equals as many victories as Mark Hughes, the man he replaced, managed in 22 matches as Saints boss.

Hasenhuttl has momentum and Southampton now have a favorable run of games with Everton, Crystal Palace and Cardiff City at home, plus a trip to Burnley. The next few weeks are pivotal for their chances of not only staying in the Premier League but pushing themselves into midtable.

Heroic Southampton win at Leicester (video)

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  • Ward-Prowse, Long score for Saints
  • Valery sent off in first half 
  • Southampton out of relegation zone
  • 3 defeats in last 4 for Leicester

10-man Southampton beat Leicester City 2-1 at the King Power Stadium on Saturday, as Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s men dragged themselves out of the relegation zone with a wonderful defensive display.

James Ward-Prowse and Shane Long put Saints 2-0 up in the first half but they also had teenage right back Yan Valery sent off for two yellow cards. With a host of injuries, suspensions and players away on international duty, Saints dug deep with eight academy graduates in their matchday squad.

In the second half Leicester pulled one back as Wilfred Ndidi made it 2-1, but despite having all of the possession and efforts they couldn’t break down a stubborn Southampton side.

With the win Saints move up to 16th place on 19 points, while Leicester slip to eight on 31 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 

Southampton took the lead early on thanks to a moment of madness by Nampalys Mendy. The Leicester midfielder caught Shane Long in the box and gave away a blatant penalty kick.

Ward-Prowse stepped up to score the penalty as Kasper Schmeichel got close to it but couldn’t keep it out.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

An unmarked Jack Stephens then forced Schmeichel into a stop as he powered in a header from a corner which the Leicester goalkeeper pushed away. Harry Maguire nodded wide from Ben Chilwell‘s cross as Leicester battled their way back into the game before half time.

After a flashpoint between Jan Valery and Chilwell saw them both booked, Jan Bednarek somehow cleared Wes Morgan‘s effort off the line as Saints held firm. At the other end Valery should have finished off Matt Targett‘s cross at the back post under pressure and moments later he was the villain.

Valery brought down Marc Albrighton and was given a second yellow card as Saints were reduced to 10 men right on half time, but then they went 2-0 up. Long beat Mendy to a long ball and his shot had too much out on it Schmeichel to keep out.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ] 

At half time Leicester brought on Demarai Gray and Harvey Barnes to try and get back into the game, as Leicester had plenty of the ball but Saints were a threat on the break with the pace of Nathan Redmond and Long.

The Foxes pumped long balls into the box and soon pulled a goal back as Ndidi bundled the ball home from Ricardo Pereira‘s cross. Game on.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Jamie Vardy and Barnes went down in the box without any contact to leave Southampton’s defenders furious, while Vardy headed off target when under pressure.

Late on Leicester threw everything at Southampton as Maddison curled a long-range effort just wide, but Saints held on for a huge victory after a valiant defensive effort.

Southampon 0-0 Burnley: Hart continues fine start

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  • Cork goal disallowed
  • Hart, McCarthy star
  • Ings debuts off bench

Southampton couldn’t find a way past Joe Hart, and Burnley’s only successful effort was ruled offside as the Saints and Clarets drew 0-0 at St. Mary’s on Sunday.

Hart and Saints counterpart Alex McCarthy made a number of fine saves, and Jack Cork‘s eighth minute Burnley goal found the back of the net but came back via a questionable offside flag.

Danny Ings made his debut as a substitute, and was deprived a chance from the spot when a stoppage time stamp on his leg went uncalled.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Chris Wood nodded a tame header to Saints goalkeeper Alex McCarthy within 90 seconds of kickoff.

Mario Lemina fouled Johann Berg Gudmundsson yards outside the 18 to give Burnley a promising free kick.

McCarthy was soon forced into a difficult save on Aaron Lennon, as the hosts were not impressive to open the match.

Saints finally got a chance in the Burnley end, with Lemina forcing Joe Hart to tip over the bar. And the move helped swing the pendulum in Southampton’s favor. A few Stuart Armstrong corners followed, and Oriol Romeu blasted a 42nd minute just wide of the frame.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Southampton asked more questions in the second half, and substitutes Mohamed Elyounoussi and Danny Ings both boosted the energy.

Elyounoussi’s 61st minute corner was cleared off the line by Ashley Westwood. Hart was again on the scene when Jack Stephens headed down toward the back post.

Lemina headed another Elyounoussi corner on goal, but Hart made another save. Ings slipped Elyounoussi on goal, and former Basel man made a cutback before James Tarkowski blocked his effort.

Southampton 0-1 Manchester City: Of course they did

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  • Man City sets records for:
  • Goals (106)
  • Goal differential (+79)
  • Wins (32)
  • Points (100)

Manchester City loves itself some final day stoppage time.

Gabriel Jesus scored at the death as City became the first club in English top flight history to earn 100 points in a season with a 1-0 win over Southampton at St. Mary’s on Sunday.

Pep Guardiola celebrated wildly when Jesus bagged the goal, assisted by league leader Kevin De Bruyne.

Saints remain in the top flight with 37 points, four better than relegated Swansea.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Saints had a few quality  chances against heavily-favored City, as the miracle hopes of Swansea picked up little early momentum.

Jack Stephens worked early danger for Saints, and Wesley Hoedt soon flicked a header off the crossbar.

Southampton stood firm, and continued to offer some options in attack as Man City took control of the match.

City had penalty claims through Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane as the match neared the final quarter hour but Andre Marriner was unmoved by their pleas.

Again all odds — and possession — Dusan Tadic danced around Ederson thrice in the 78th minute, but his shot was cleared off the line by Fernandinho.

Phil Foden subbed into the match for Man City, qualifying him to become the youngest ever Premier League medal winner.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]