Aug 3, 2020
Aug 3, 2020

VAR's influence upon Premier League betting

How has VAR influenced Premier League betting?

VAR's impact on goals, red cards and penalties

Does VAR affect bettors?

Can VAR influence the outcome of a match?

VAR's influence upon Premier League betting

The Premier League has never been short of a talking point or two. Former players have carved out lucrative careers by pontificating upon the debatable decisions which take place each week, and now they have something which has dialled the controversy up several notches: VAR.

What is the Video Assistant Referee (VAR)?

The Video Assistant Referee system has been deployed since the start of the 2019/20 season, and we have seen multiple examples of how it has affected the outcome of matches, which naturally influences the betting world too.

It’s impossible to know exactly how many VAR checks take place in each match, though it is possible for bettors to conduct their own research via live text feeds and match reports. ESPN also keep a record of any confirmed decisions which were overturned by VAR.

What we can say for certain is that all goals which are scored, all red cards that are shown and all penalties which are awarded get checked by the team at Stockley Park, with the aim of ensuring the on-field referee made the correct decision. VAR also checks incidents where there perhaps should have been a spot kick or sending off, in case they were missed by the team of officials at the stadium.

What impact did VAR have on the 2019/20 Premier League season and how did it affect bettors? Let’s take a look at three categories.

VAR's impact on red cards

At first glance, VAR didn’t have much impact when it came to red cards. There were 44 players sent off in 2019/20, which is broadly in line with the 47, 38 and 41 who were given their marching orders in the preceding three seasons respectively.

Of the 12 matches that featured a red card decision determined via VAR, seven finished with the same scoreline than at the time the decision was made.

However, a closer look reveals that VAR certainly made a dent in the disciplinary table. There were 12 red card decisions which were overturned at Stockley Park, with three on-field sending offs rescinded and nine men sent for an early shower once footage had been reviewed.

The net result of the interventions was six extra red cards, meaning this season would’ve tied with 2017/18 for the fewest dismissals in the last 21 years otherwise.

The 12 red card decisions were taken by ten different Video Assistant Referees, so it was not a case of one or two officials exerting undue influence upon proceedings. While it is impossible to know for certain how the matches would have unfolded had the VAR decisions not been taken, seven of the 12 games ended with the scoreline which they had at the time of the red card adjudication.

The most significant sending off implemented by VAR appeared to be Ryan Bertrand’s red card after only 12 minutes of Southampton’s match against Leicester last October. The match finished 9-0 to the visitors, making it the biggest away win in English top flight history.

Pinnacle had under 2.5 goals as the more likely outcome ahead of the match, priced at 1.86 compared to 2.05 for over 2.5 goals. A 12th minute sending off which wouldn’t have otherwise happened went a long way to ensuring it was a goal-fest and will have proved costly to some bettors.

The other red card which VAR ruled should be shown and that had severe implications was that against Fernandinho for handball in Chelsea’s 2-1 home win against Manchester City in June. Willian scored the resulting penalty, and the 2-1 scoreline confirmed Liverpool as champions for the first time in 30 years. From a betting perspective, it also ensured that the pre-match favoured option of over 2.5 goals was met too.

VAR's impact on penalties

It will be impossible to accurately gauge the impact of VAR alone with regards to penalties, as the handball law also changed ahead of this season. However, the final total of 92 spot kicks was broadly in line with the average of 94.8 which were awarded per season across the previous decade.

If VAR did not exist, home teams would have won 58.3% of the Premier League penalties awarded in 2019/20; instead, they received 51.1%.

However, as with red cards, that’s not the end of the story. There were 20 penalties awarded by VAR and seven which they rescinded after the on-field referee had initially pointed to the spot. Without this net gain of 13 penalties, there would have been the fewest in a Premier League season since 74 were awarded in 2005/06.

Both Serie A and the MLS saw a degrading of home advantage with regards to penalties when VAR was introduced, and the 2019/20 Premier League season also saw this occur. Across the preceding 10 seasons, 60.1% of penalties were awarded to home sides. This season saw them win just 51.1% of the penalties, with their combined total of 47 the lowest for 14 years. The figure was 52.4% in 2018/19, so it was not a massive drop from that proportion, but the lower figure can seemingly point to the reviews conducted by VAR.

The net addition of 13 penalties was split 12 to one in favour of away teams. Clubs on the road may have had three spot kicks rescinded following video review, but they were collectively awarded 15 by Stockley Park too.

If VAR did not exist, home teams would have won 58.3% of the Premier League penalties awarded in 2019/20; still a dip on the ten-year average, but a higher proportion than they earned in three of the previous six campaigns.

There has also been a higher percentage of penalties going to the traditional big six teams, and particularly the duo from Manchester.

Across the preceding five seasons, the top teams picked up 35% of the total penalties awarded, but they won 48% of them in 2019/20. However, the addition of VAR didn’t make much difference here, as the big clubs won 47% of the 72 spot kicks which were given without any involvement from the video ref this season. The increase has been down to the officials in the stadium.

From a betting perspective, whether or not a penalty is scored is usually more important than if it is awarded in the first place. This is where the delays brought about by VAR checks may have had an impact.

Of the 92 spot kicks awarded this season, 20 were missed, resulting in a conversion rate of 78%. However, nine of the failures occurred from the 20 penalties which were awarded following a video review. In other words, the penalty conversion rate was 85% when no check was required, but only 55% when Stockley Park intervened. It’s a small sample, but certainly one to watch long term.

VAR's impact on goals

In 2019/20 there were 1034 goals scored in the Premier League, a drop of 38 on the season before, but only 11 below the average from the previous ten years.

The new system didn’t just affect the basic 1X2 market for a match. By disallowing or awarding goals, VAR disrupted the market for the Golden Boot.

VAR awarded ten goals which were not originally given on the pitch, but also disallowed 56 for various infringements. Without its introduction, there would have been 1080 goals in England’s top division, more than were scored in any of the previous 20 seasons.

However, it isn’t the total volume of goals which concerns us, but rather their impact upon results and related bets. While it’s impossible to say for sure if a goal awarded or disallowed will have definitely changed a result, there were some matches where it was hugely relevant.

There were eight matches where a VAR intervention was made regarding a goal scored in the 90th minute or later. Manchester City had two goals wiped off in this period, though Gabriel Jesus’ effort in their 2-2 draw against Tottenham clearly mattered more than Riyad Mahrez’s in their 4-0 win over Liverpool.

Leicester were awarded a 94th minute winner against Everton in December, but also had a 90th minute equaliser disallowed when losing 2-1 to Southampton.

Perhaps the most deeply affected team were Bournemouth. With their Premier League safety on the line, they had injury time goals disallowed against Tottenham and Southampton in July, which could easily have earned them an extra three points and saved them from relegation.

The new system didn’t just affect the basic 1X2 market for a match. By disallowing or awarding goals, VAR disrupted the market for the Golden Boot.

The key intervention in this area occurred at the Amex Stadium in November. Jamie Vardy initially missed a penalty but the VAR ruled that James Maddison had encroached into the box before knocking in the rebound.

The penalty was retaken, Vardy scored and was eventually top scorer by a single goal. Without VAR, he would have shared the Golden Boot award with Danny Ings and with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang two goals back as he gained two goals following video reviews. The biggest impact will be seen in the Both Teams to Score and Total Goals markets though, as the timing of opening goals has a massive impact on how matches play out.

Let’s look at Southampton’s 1-1 draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers, in which Danny Ings gave them the lead in the 53rd minute. Based on Premier League matches over the last two seasons where the opening goal was scored between the 50th and 60th minute, that game had only a 35% chance of featuring over 2.5 goals.

Yet Raul Jimenez had goals disallowed by the VAR in both the 29th and 43rd minutes. Had the first been given, there would then have been a 65% chance of over 2.5 goals, based on historic results from the last 760 Premier League matches.

There are also examples where an early disallowed goal didn’t prevent both teams from scoring or there being a high total of goals. For instance, Aston Villa vs. Burnley finished 2-2 despite a potential opening goal being ruled out in the 25th minute. However, it definitely appears these are markets where VAR can have a massive influence upon the success of your bets.

Perhaps the worst part for bettors is that it’s impossible to know how or when VAR will strike. In a sport full of random factors, VAR may have become the largest of them all, which can only spell bad news for bettors.

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