Another Liverpool game, another post-match narrative dictated by inept referees and the application of VAR. This time, though, the Reds were the beneficiaries of three decisions in their favour.
Before we start, it should be said that two of those decisions were correct. First came Ashley Young’s red card after 37 minutes, for two silly yellow cards. Were both bookings justified? To put it simply, the 38-year-old full back should have known better.
Young has played at the top level for two decades, a career that started alongside his now-manager Sean Dyche at Watford, and he knows both fouls warrant a card. He was the oldest player on the pitch and yet this sending-off belied his vast experience.
But in brandishing that pair of cards, referee Craig Pawson set a precedent. He was not going to show the leniency sometimes afforded in such an emotionally-charged fixture. So why did Ibrahima Konate not see red in the second half?
The Frenchman had been booked earlier and then, just after the hour mark, committed a foul on Everton striker Beto on the halfway line. The Portuguese forward had spun the defender and the Toffees had space in behind and a numerical advantage on a rare counter-attack.
Sean Dyche saind he was ‘stunned’ by the decisions taken by the referee during the game
Ashley Young was sent off for two silly fouls which put Liverpool in the drivers seat for the game
Konate pulled his man to the floor and everyone inside Anfield thought they knew what was coming. But the yellow card never came out. The laws of the game dictate that a professional foul of this kind — to deny an advantageous position — should bring a booking. ‘I have no clue,’ said manager Dyche, who was himself booked for his angry protests. ‘I think people who were here would be stunned it was not a second yellow. I can’t remember the last time I spoke this openly about referees but that one is incredible to me.’
Jurgen Klopp agreed. ‘I have seen so many football games and I have seen so many yellow cards for moments like this,’ said the German, who quickly substituted Konate for Joel Matip. ‘Yeah… we got lucky!’
Liverpool opened the scoring from the penalty spot after a clear handball by Michael Keane — again, missed by Pawson but awarded by VAR — and that was pretty much game over. Before that, Liverpool were on top but not banging the door down.
And it felt like the lack of red for Konate really swung the pendulum against Everton. They felt wronged and Liverpool were galvanised. ‘I think that’s where VAR should step in and say, “Yellow, yellow, yellow”,’ added Dyche. ‘It should be there to step in, especially games of this magnitude.’ And he has a point, why is VAR not permitted to adjudicate on yellow cards?
At the moment, Stockley Park only intervenes over red cards, penalties, goals and cases of mistaken identity. Though this lack of a yellow card wasn’t necessarily a turning point, it could have swung the match out of Everton’s favour — and that feels wrong. Liverpool fans will point to a similar incident at Tottenham a few weeks ago — no, not that one — when Diogo Jota was sent off for two bookings. The League’s Independent Key Match Incidents Panel, whatever that is, later ruled the Portuguese’s sending-off was wrong.
A report stated ‘the majority deemed the decision as incorrect as they felt (the second tackle) did not meet the threshold for a yellow card’. So both sides of Merseyside can be aggrieved by the fact VAR cannot intervene for bookings alone.
Young’s dismissal meant that 23 red cards have been shown in the Premier League this season, up from seven after this amount of games last term, and 13 of those have been for two yellows. He also received the 23rd Premier League red in the Merseyside derby.
In an era where every minuscule detail of matches is debated and scrutinised heavily, it feels like VAR should be free to intervene at decisions that can often change the outlook of a match and subsequently the result.
Mo Salah’s brace capped off a dominant performance by Liverpool after Young’s red card