It seems a lifetime ago when we were weekly up in arms about VAR. In reality, it has only been a month or so since the all-new common sense approach to refereeing was introduced this season and the video referee receded into the appropriate anonymity of Stockley Park. As such, we had almost forgotten what a good VAR rant was like.
But like a sepia-tinted nostalgia fest, here was one from the good old days, designed to baffle and infuriate in equal measure and on which the match turned on 61 minutes. Adam Armstrong it was who broke dangerously into the Manchester City penalty area and Kyle Walker who dived in somewhat recklessly to tackle, getting much more man than ball.
Immediately referee Jon Moss gave a penalty before sending off Walker. After a lengthy delay, we had the ‘VAR checking penalty’ message. Which is bizarre in itself, as all penalties are checked immediately anyway. It cannot be said often nor loudly enough just how bad the user experience is for the fan in the stadium as they are left to guess and puzzle it out, denied any information or replays.
There was frustration for Manchester City as they were held to a goalless draw against Southampton at the Etihad Stadium
Raheem Sterling thought he scored a stoppage time winner only for it to be disallowed as the offside flag was raised
Kyle Walker was shown a red card for a challenge on Adam Armstrong which also saw Southampton awarded a penalty
Referee Jonathan Moss was advised to look at the VAR monitor and he overturned both Walker’s red card and the penalty kick
So when the referee is invited to take the leisurely job over to the monitor, fans are more or less invited to take a break and re-join the action again when we’re ready. Prime time entertainment it ain’t. Eventually, we had Moss trotting back to rescind Walker’s red card, which seemed correct, as unless you haven’t attempted to play the ball, no player should be sent off while conceding a penalty on the principle of double jeopardy.
And yet he also overturned the penalty, which seemed odd as Walker’s aggressive challenge, which bundled Armstrong over, wasn’t the clearest cut penalty ever awarded, but it certainly didn’t seem an obvious mistake.
Ralph Hassenhuttl, happy enough with his point, was magnanimous. ‘If this is interesting you, then we have the feeling that it [the award of the penalty] was not a clearly wrong decision. When the referee thinks it is a clearly wrong decision, he has to overrule it and he did it, which is a pity for us…’
The Manchester City full-back tries to defend his case after he was shown the red card mid-way into the second-half
Pep Guardiola and Ralph Hasenhuttl exchange words after the penalty and red card decisions were overturned by VAR
Man City (4-3-3): Ederson 6; Walker 5, Dias 7, Ake 6, Cancelo 6; Silva 6.5 (Foden 73, 7), Fernandinho 4.5 (De Bruyne 65, 7), Gundogan 5.5; Jesus 6 (Mahrez 67, 6), Sterling 6, Grealish 6
Subs not used: Carson, Torres, Mbete, Palmer, Lavia, Wilson-Esbrand
Southampton (4-4-2): McCarthy 7; Livramento 7.5 (Perraud 86), Bednarek 8, Stephens 6 (Salisu 37, 6.5), Walker-Peters 7; Elyounoussi 7, Romeu 7.5, Ward-Prowse 7, Redmond 7.5; Adams 6 (Broja 68, 6); Armstrong 6.5
Subs not used: Forster, Lyanco, Djenepo, Tella, Diallo, Valery
Referee: Jon Moss 5
That moment provided the peak drama. There was precious little else about which to get excited. Except on 90 minutes when City celebrated a last-minute winner before a flag was raised and on an industrial estate in west London, checks were made.
It was Kevin De Bruyne’s cross for Foden, headed goal-wards that appeared to break the deadlock. Alex McCarthy saved magnificently but on the rebound, Sterling managed to get the ball across the line. Alas, he had come from an offside position, something VAR would confirm. Had Sterling left it for the onside Foden, who was following up behind, City would have had their three point.
Yet the disallowing of the goal was the most significant part of that action. It was the fact that it was City’s first attempt on goal and that it came in the 90th minute. Even after the A-team had joined the action in De Bruyne, Foden and Riyad Mahrez, there wasn’t much to show for it. The team that hit five against Norwich and Arsenal, six against RB Leipzig have come over all shot shy.
Those goalfests have prevented us from asking Pep Guardiola the obvious question. ‘What would Harry Kane do?’ More specifically what would have done with the 22nd minute Kyle Walker cross which Bernardo Silva allowed to bounce off his head and wide.
‘The question is not that,’ insisted Guardiola. ‘Today we didn’t not win because we didn’t have a centre forward. We didn’t win because our crosses, [our ability] to make, to adapt, to create, to play better and give better balls for the players that were up front weren’t as good.
‘Of course we had one shot on target but there was four of five that was blocked in the six-yard box. They were there. But that’s not the reason. The reason is because we didn’t do the passes for our back four and Fernandinho, the five guys who have to bring the ball to the other players today was not good. In these passes, we fly, we live all together to make transitions, this is the way. This was not perfect, not what we wanted.’
Alex McCarthy comes out for a corner which Nathan Ake wins a header but the Dutchman couldn’t direct his effort on target
Manchester City had a number of efforts in the first half but struggled to create a clear cut opportunity to get a breakthrough
Jack Grealish battles for possession with Southampton defender Tino Livramento during the second-half at the Etihad
Phil Foden, Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez all came on in the second half but still City struggled to create a clear chance
Only Guardiola could make a banal football passing sequence sound like a passage of magical realism but, in a sense, he was right. City simply weren’t fluid in their creative energy and when they are, they can almost do without a world class finisher. Almost. You sense that in the final analysis, against the best teams, in the title run in and Champions League final stages, they will rue their inability to do a deal with Daniel Levy.
The most significant first-half action came from the crowd. Three minutes in, they roared repeatedly, a favourite anthem ‘We’ve got Guardiola’ to the tune of ‘Glad All Over’. The lover’s tiff between iconic coach and hard-core fanbase appeared resolved after Guadiola criticised the lack of atmosphere and numbers here in midweek and fans’ groups responded angrily. The fans, at least, were here and in force. The team, not so much.
Another benefitting from the reaffirmation of affection was Raheem Sterling, picked to start for the first time since the opening day’s 1-0 loss against Spurs. Supplanted by Ruben Dias in the leadership group at City and by Jack Grealish on the left of attack, his best work seems reserved for England these days. Here he played centrally, with City’s only recognised centre forward, Gabriel Jesus on the right and Grealish left.
At times, that trio fizzed with excitement and passed with elegance. But not often. City are too good ever to be average. Yet they allowed Southampton plenty of the ball early on, lost possession cheaply and looked some way short of their best.
Southampton went well beyond competence here. In-between their periodic 9-0 defeats, they look a thoroughly decent side. The loss of Danny Ings, Ryan Bertrand and Jan Vestergaard doesn’t seemed to have unduly taxed them. Ward-Prowse continues to shine in midfield, Oriel Romeu his faithful sidekick. Mohamed Elyounoussi will be so dangerous when he picks better options, as to when to shoot and when to pass. Tino Livramento impresses and Armstrong is tireless up front.
Man City thought they should have had a penalty of their own when Raheem Sterling went down but nothing was given
Guardiola repeatedly yelled from the touchline as City only produced one shot on target for the entirety of the 90 minutes
It was a positive point for Hasenhuttl’s side away from home despite the disappointment of their penalty being overturned