Real Madrid 0-0 Atlético: VAR fails the derby test
The most fervent Atlético-supporting friend I have, a chap I went to school with who today is a fine science professor, sent me a text straight after Saturday's game at the Bernabéu. "With VAR or without it, life stays the same," he wrote. I'd said on the eve of the first derby with the video-assistant-referee system that it would be a stern test for the technology. There are just so many Atleti fans of all ages who are convinced that Real Madrid's successes have gone hand in hand with helpful refereeing, and who believed that, with the introduction of VAR, this was about to change. Indeed, there's a meme doing the rounds showing Real's pre-VAR and post-VAR trophy cabinets, with their shiny silverware suddenly replaced by clay pots.
The thing about VAR is that it isn't going to sort out every possible incident, or even that many; only clear and obvious ones. The problem is that even this notion is slippery; we've seen that even the line showing who's offside is open to mishaps and, what's more, what for some is clear and obvious is less so for others, or rather is clear and obvious - but in the opposite direction. Take for example the handball incident involving Casemiro. Is his body in a natural position, or straining to cover more space? Or when Sergio Ramos catches Ángel Correa. Is that just an ill-judged jump, or outright violent conduct? It depends who you ask, of course.
Behind VAR is a referee up in the stadium working with the one out on the pitch, each taking on one role or the other depending on the day. Behind VAR there are guidelines for the officials to follow and which, on this occasion, brought the same outcome for both major borderline incidents (although, in my view, the second isn't all that borderline; I think it was a red). If VAR had been in operation in LaLiga last year, experts assure me, the kick in the face that broke Ramos' nose still wouldn't have been punished. But it wasn't there then, it is here now, what happened happened, and the Atlético fans feel they have renewed cause to feed their pet grievance. There's no getting away from it: VAR is not perfect, or straightforward.