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The influence of VAR on sports betting

In this article, we take a look at how VAR has influenced the world's best championship, with its impact on goals, penalties and red cards. In short, VAR can change the outcome of a match and therefore influence our sports betting.

What is video-assisted refereeing (VAR) ?

The video-assisted refereeing system has been in place since the start of the 2019-2020 season, and we've seen plenty of examples of its influence on the outcome of matches: of course the betting world is affected too.

It's impossible to pinpoint the exact number of VAR checks carried out at each match, but punters can conduct their own research through live text commentary and match reports. ESPN also keeps track of all confirmed decisions that have been overturned by VAR.

What we can say with certainty is that every goal scored, every red card shown and every penalty awarded is checked by a team at Stockley Park to ensure that the on-field referee has made the correct decision. VAR also looks at incidents where there should perhaps have been a penalty or sending off, in case they were ignored by the officials on the pitch.

What influence has VAR had on the Premier League in the first four seasons of its implementation, and how has this new tool affected punters' choices? Let's look at three categories.

VAR's influence on red cards

The number of red cards has fallen since VAR was introduced. In the four seasons prior to its introduction, 185 players were sent off in Premier League matches, but that number has fallen to 165 from 2018-2019 to 2022-2023.

However, there are two crucial points to bear in mind here. For a start, fewer red cards were issued over the years: 257 players were sent off in the four seasons from 2000-2001, for example.

The other possible issue is that the number of red cards might not have fallen as a result of VAR, but might simply have fallen during the period in which the review system was used.

The data bears this out. There were 53 overturned sending-off decisions following VAR checks, with 44 reviews resulting in a sending-off and nine cancellations.

In other words, VAR added a total of 35 red cards that would not otherwise have been issued. Without the interventions of the Stockley Park teams, the total would have plummeted. The reduction can be explained by the fact that the referees let the games run more freely and showed tolerance when they had the opportunity to punish any fouls.

The most notable sending off after the introduction of VAR seems to be the first: Ryan Bertrand's red card after just 12 minutes of play in the match between Southampton and Leicester in October 2019. The game ended 9-0 in favour of the visitors, the biggest away win in the history of the English top flight.

Before the match, Pinnacle considered it more likely to see less than 2.5 goals, with odds of 1.86 compared to 2.05 for a result above that mark. A 12th-minute dismissal (which would not have happened otherwise) played a large part in making the game a goal-fest, which will have been detrimental to some punters.

Curiously, a red card was shown after consulting VAR when Manchester United crushed Southampton 9-0 in February 2021. However, this occurred in the 86th minute and the home team had scored six goals, so the sending off had far less influence on the game (apart from helping an already big win become a record win).

A more illustrative case of the impact of VAR occurred at the Hawthorns two months earlier. West Bromwich Albion's Matheus Pereira was sent off after a VAR check in the 34th minute, and the score was 1-1 at half-time. This event helped Crystal Palace win the match 5-1 thanks to the Eagles' numerical superiority. The odds on less than 2.5 goals being scored in this match were set at 1.88, while the 'more than 2.5 goals' proposition was set at 2.03.

At least three goals could have been scored regardless of the red card, but this undoubtedly made it much more plausible.

Although the sample sizes for the combinations of refereeing and VAR influence are limited, they are still important to bear in mind.

Tandem Mike Dean and Darren England handed out red cards following video consultations within the first 10 minutes of games at Brentford and Fulham in 2022, one brandished by the referee on the pitch and the other recommended by the Stockley Park team. Newcastle were the favoured team in both cases and took advantage to win the games, winning 2-0 and 4-1 respectively. The Magpies were considered the underdogs by Pinnacle before the first match.

The influence of VAR on penalties

It will be difficult to accurately measure the effect of VAR on penalties, as the rule on hands in the box has changed over the last four seasons.

At first glance, the influence on penalty awards has not proved to be major, with a figure of 419 penalty kicks whistled over the four seasons when VAR was in place and 381 over the four seasons before that.

In Serie A and MLS, there has been a deterioration in home advantage when it comes to penalties.

However, as with red cards, video reviews made a distinct addition. Although 50 penalties were overturned, a further 113 penalty kicks were awarded once the referee on the pitch had reviewed the situation.

A far more intriguing change also took place. Both Serie A and MLS have seen a weakening of home advantage when it comes to penalties following the introduction of VAR, and the Premier League has also experienced this phenomenon. Between 2015-16 and 2018-19, 58.8% of penalties were awarded to home teams, but this figure has fallen to 53.9% since the introduction of VAR.

Similarly, home teams have won 55.6% of penalties awarded outside of VAR in the last four Premier League seasons, but only 49.6% of those that have followed a review.

It is worth noting that the biggest drop occurred in 2020-2021, a season that was played almost exclusively behind closed doors. With no public to influence the referee, it was probably inevitable that a lower proportion of penalties would be taken in this campaign.

From a team perspective, Manchester City won the most penalties from VAR with 11, followed by West Ham (10), Brighton (9) and Manchester United (8).

However, among the top teams, Arsenal were the most reliant on VAR reviews during this period. While 27.5% of Premier League penalties were awarded after a review, 46.2% of Arsenal's total fell into this category. West Ham (45.5%) and Newcastle (41.2%) also had a proportional advantage, particularly over the likes of Aston Villa (12.5%) and Liverpool (17.4%).

From a betting perspective, whether the penalty is scored or not is generally more important than whether it is awarded in the first place. This is where the delays caused by VAR reviews can have an influence.

Of the 327 penalties awarded since summer 2019, 84 have been missed, giving a success rate of 79.6%. However, 31 misses were recorded among the 113 penalties awarded following video verification. In other words, the penalty success rate was 82.2% when no decision was changed, but only 72.6% when Stockley Park intervened.

The influence of VAR on goals

While red cards and penalties probably have an influence on the outcome of matches, although we can't say for sure, goals clearly do. Once again, the number hasn't changed much: the Premier League recorded 4,180 goals in the four years before VAR was introduced, compared with 4,212 since.

Yet this increase of just eight goals per season could have been much greater. Video consultations resulted in a net decrease of 151 goals, with 45 awarded following an intervention, but 196 cancelled.

What worries us is not the total volume of goals, but rather their impact on results and related betting. While it is impossible to say with certainty whether a goal awarded or disallowed would have changed a result, there have been games where it was extremely relevant.

Those that come late in games can be more decisive than others. There have been 39 goals validated or disallowed from the 85th minute onwards, but of course some of these have come in games that were virtually already decided.

Only two goals have been awarded by VAR that could reasonably be considered winning goals, and none since 2019: an 87th-minute goal for Crystal Palace at West Ham in October of that year and a 94th-minute goal for Leicester when they hosted Everton in December, both games ending 2-1 in favour of the beneficiaries of video consultation.

There have been more frequent instances of potentially decisive goals being overturned, with Bournemouth's 2019-2020 season side perhaps the most seriously affected. While fighting to stay in the Premier League, the Cherries scored injury-time goals that were disallowed after VAR consultation against Tottenham and Southampton in July 2020, which could have earned them an extra three points and saved them from relegation.

The new system has brought about changes that are not limited to the 1N2 market for a match. By cancelling or awarding goals, VAR has also changed the game for the top scorer market.

A decisive event took place during the 2019-2020 season at the Amex Stadium. First, Jamie Vardy missed a penalty, but VAR indicated that James Maddison had entered the area before the striker touched the ball.

The penalty was withdrawn. Vardy scored the goal and eventually became top scorer by a single goal. Without VAR, he would have shared the top scorer award with Danny Ings and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, two goals behind, as he was awarded two goals following video reviews.

Since then, the Golden Boot ranking has not been affected, but the risk is there.

The following season, Harry Kane topped the scoring charts, beating Mohamed Salah by a single goal. However, where the former Tottenham man had one of his goals disallowed by VAR, his Liverpool counterpart had three disallowed.

Since then, the Golden Boot market has not been directly affected, but the risk is there. The biggest impact will be on the 'Both teams score' and 'Total goals' markets, as the timing of the first goals scored has a major influence on the outcome of matches.

Let's look at a few examples from the 2022-2023 season. When Liverpool hosted Chelsea at Anfield, Pinnacle offered odds of 1.89 for goals over 2.5 and 2.01 for goals under 2.5.

In the third minute, a goal by Kai Havertz was disallowed for offside, which was not spotted by the referees on the pitch. Data shows that a Premier League match records more than 2.5 goals 71% of the time when the first goal is scored within the first 10 minutes.

However, this game ended goalless, which may have disappointed punters who chose their preferred 'Total Goals' market during the match.

There are also situations where a goal cancelled early in the game did not prevent both teams from being prolific. For example, the match between Brentford and Newcastle ended 1-2, despite the potential first goal being disallowed in the 9th minute. These markets are nevertheless sensitive to the major influence VAR can have on the success of your bets.

What can be most frustrating for punters is that it is impossible to know how or when VAR will intervene. In a sport where random factors abound, VAR could have become the most influential of them all, which doesn't bode well for punters.

Monday, February 19, 2024

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