clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Bracing for the Impact of VAR in the 2019-20 EPL Season

New, comments

Following its rollout elsewhere, VAR comes to the EPL this season. What will be the impact on scoring, and how should you adjust your fantasy Premier League strategy to take advantage?

LED screen displays the message that the Video Assistant Referee is reviewing a goal - UEFA Champions League
Everybody’s favorite three letter acronym inside a box symbol comes to the Premier League this season.
Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images

VAR (Video Assistant Referee) technology is headed for the Premier League in 2019-20. As we brace for its impact, let’s take a look at how two recent competitions featuring no shortage of EPL players were affected by the technology. The stand-out memory particularly from the 2018 Russia World Cup, but also the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League, was the seeming explosion of scoring, much due to penalty kicks. Do the numbers bear that out, and if so, just how much of an impact on the Premiership and in FPL can we expect?

~

PK SCORING IN WORLD CUP AND CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

The 2018 World Cup infamously became the World Cup of penalty kicks, and many of them were VAR-aided. Unlike the World Cup, the 2018-19 Champions League did not use VAR for the entire competition, but instead introduced it for the knockout stages; even so, several examples of VAR controversy easily spring to mind, including the PK handball belatedly called at the death against Paris Saint-Germain that capped a remarkable Manchester United comeback in the Round of 16 (sequence begins at around 3:20 of the video below):

Let’s start by looking at penalty kick scoring in the most recent World Cup and Champions League competitions, comparing to the previous five tournaments for each:

World Cup & Champions League - Historical PK Goals

YEAR WORLD CUP GOALS SEASON CHAMPIONS LEAGUE GOALS
YEAR WORLD CUP GOALS SEASON CHAMPIONS LEAGUE GOALS
1998 17 2013-14 29
2002 8 2014-15 31
2006 13 2015-16 25
2010 9 2016-17 33
2014 12 2017-18 28
2018 22 2018-19 34

As VAR took center stage, the 2018 World Cup famously — or infamously — set new records for both penalty kicks awarded (29) and scored (22). The average of the prior five competitions was 11.8 PK goals, meaning that the mark of 22 PK conversions in 2018 was up by an astonishing 86.4%.

The bonanza was not as extreme in the Champions League as it was in the World Cup, but the total of 34 UCL PK goals in 2018-19 was more than any of the previous five seasons, and was up from the average of 29.2 by 16.4%. And again, VAR was introduced only after the group stage, so its impact would not be expected to be as great as it was in the World Cup.

~

GROUP STAGE VERSUS KNOCKOUT STAGE

Taking that midway introduction of VAR in mind, we should look at the difference between PK goals in the group stage versus the knockout stage. Was there an increase in the PK component in the Champions League following the introduction of VAR? And how does that compare to the World Cup, where VAR was in play the entire tournament?

World Cup & Champions League - PK Scoring Component by Stage

STAGE 2018 WC GOALS PK GOALS PK GOAL COMPONENT 2018-19 UCL GOALS PK GOALS PK GOAL COMPONENT
STAGE 2018 WC GOALS PK GOALS PK GOAL COMPONENT 2018-19 UCL GOALS PK GOALS PK GOAL COMPONENT
Group Stage 122 18 14.8% 275 25 9.1%
Knockout Stage 47 4 8.5% 91 8 8.8%

Interestingly, the share of all goals from the penalty spot actually declined from 9.1% in the group stage of Champions League (without VAR) down to 8.8% in the knockout stage (with VAR). However, that was a much less steep decline than that in the World Cup (with VAR throughout) from 14.8% in the group phase down to 8.5% in the knockout phase.

Looking through that lens, it would appear that the introduction of VAR in Champions League did indeed have an increased impact with respect to penalty kicks, relatively speaking. As we know, the level of competition ramps up significantly from the group to knockout stage, making penalty kicks tougher to come by. The addition of VAR, however, appears to have lessened that dropoff considerably.

~

SHOULD WE EXPECT MORE GOALS, OR JUST MORE PK GOALS?

Speaking of penalty kick goal share, I think that’s the metric to focus on, rather than simply the number of total goals or PKs. We already saw how much the penalty kick goals number increased; expanding the first chart above, let’s see what the PK scoring change was when taken in the context of overall scoring.

World Cup & Champions League - Historical PK Goal Share

YEAR WC GOALS PK GOALS PK GOAL COMPONENT SEASON UCL GOALS PK GOALS PK GOAL COMPONENT
YEAR WC GOALS PK GOALS PK GOAL COMPONENT SEASON UCL GOALS PK GOALS PK GOAL COMPONENT
1998 171 17 10.0% 2013-14 362 29 9.1%
2002 161 8 5.0% 2014-15 361 31 8.8%
2006 147 13 8.9% 2015-16 347 25 7.2%
2010 145 9 6.2% 2016-17 380 33 8.7%
2014 171 12 7.0% 2017-18 401 28 7.0%
2018 169 22 13.0% 2018-19 366 34 9.3%

Despite the addition of VAR, neither the 2018 World Cup nor 2018-19 Champions League set new records in overall scoring, or even ranked either #1 or #2 when compared to the prior five competitions. With 169 goals, the 2018 World Cup was behind 1998 and 2014 (171 each); meanwhile, with 366 scores, the 2018-19 Champions League had fewer goals than 2017-18 (401) and 2016-17 (380). That was unlike the penalty kick goal numbers from the earlier chart, as both were #1 when compared to the prior five tourneys.

However, looking at the chart directly above, the share of scoring attributed to penalty kick goals was significantly up from both the prior singular competition and the average of the past five, rising up to 13.0% in the World Cup (from 7.0% in 2014) and up to 9.3% in the Champions League (from 7.0% in 2017-18). The increase in goal share from PKs after VAR was introduced is the major takeaway, although, again, this was admittedly more significant in the World Cup than in Champions League due to when VAR was in use in each competition.

~

WHAT IS THE EPL TREND IN RECENT SEASONS?

One thing to ask, of course: Is scoring — and PK scoring — going up in the EPL already, even before we have VAR enter the scene?

EPL Scoring in Recent Seasons

SEASON EPL GOALS PK GOALS PK GOAL COMPONENT
SEASON EPL GOALS PK GOALS PK GOAL COMPONENT
2014-15 975 63 6.5%
2015-16 1026 72 7.0%
2016-17 1064 81 7.7%
2017-18 1018 56 5.6%
2018-19 1072 81 7.6%

While it has not been an uninterrupted trend (as witnessed by the backward move from 2016-17 to 2017-18), the general trend of recent Premier League seasons has been increased scoring, both overall and from the penalty spot. VAR should make a big difference, but a jump in goals may not come entirely from the new technology.

~

IS THERE A CAVEAT?

One thing to keep in mind is that while VAR giveth, VAR also taketh away. That was a lesson we all learned well from the finish of the Champions League quarterfinal pitting Tottenham v. Manchester City. Raheem Sterling’s goal that seemed to put the Citizens through to the semis was reversed by VAR on a Sergio Aguero offisde call that never would have been made in real time, instead allowing Spurs to jubilantly celebrate (sequence begins ~4:00 in the video below):

~

THE BOTTOM LINE

What does all of this mean? With the introduction of VAR this season (and following the general trend otherwise), we are more likely than not to see an increase in total goals in the Premier League. However, expectation for increased overall scoring should be tempered, both with respect to the chances of that happening, and the rate of increase if it does.

Whether the number of total goals increases a bit as expected or not, the important takeaway is that we are extremely likely to see a significant uptick in penalty kick goals this season and a correspondingly boost in the PK goal component as a share of total goals. This is vital from a fantasy perspective where two or three goals gained (or two or three clean sheets lost) for a player over the course of a season can make an enormous difference.

~

WHAT POSITIONS AND PLAYERS SHOULD YOU TARGET OR AVOID?

As always with any change, there will be winners and losers. It looks that fantasy player pricing is based on last season (and recent seasons), without taking into account the expected VAR impact, which means that savvy fantasy managers should look to take advantage of the situation.

Generally speaking, pushing your funds even more than usual to the offensive end, while going the bargain route on the defensive side, seems to be in order, with an eagle eye on primary penalty kick takers. Offensive players have always been tagged with outsized prices compared to their defensive counterparts; this season, they may finally justify that disparity.

~

WINNERS

  • Primary PK-taking top-tier strikers such as Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Tottenham’s Harry Kane, Leicester’s Jamie Vardy, and Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero become even more valuable.
  • Likewise for non-forwards who take pens such as Crystal Palace’s Luka Milivojevic, West Ham’s Mark Noble, Manchester United’s Paul Pogba, Liverpool’s Mo Salah, and Everton’s Gylfi Sigurdsson.
  • Budget-friendly second- or third-tier fantasy strikers from lesser teams who are #1 PK takers along the lines of Burnley’s Ashley Barnes, Wolves’ Raul Jimenez, Bournemouth’s Joshua King, and Brighton’s Glenn Murray. And when we figure out who takes PKs for the three promoted sides, someone may become worth a punt despite rarely scoring from open play.
  • Now that Eden Hazard has left for Real Madrid, whoever earns the priority designation at Chelsea. Perhaps Jorginho?
  • Anybody who becomes the primary penalty taker unexpectedly, particularly on a top team — whether due to poor performance or injury to the former #1 option — will instantly gain tremendous value.
  • Players who do not take PKs but draw a fair number of PKs (and earn the resultant fantasy assists) such as Palace’s Wilfried Zaha and City’s Raheem Sterling, should also see their fantasy scores improve.
  • Goalkeepers who have a penchant for saving penalty kicks such as Everton’s Jordan Pickford.

~

LOSERS

  • It will be more difficult to justify having forwards who do not (or rarely) take pens, such as West Ham’s Marko Arnautovic, Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino, Arsenal’s Alexandre Lacazette, Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku, and Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson.
  • A primary penalty taker who unexpectedly loses the assignment — whether before the season, or during the season following poor execution from the spot — will prove fantasy poison and quickly need to be jettisoned. In that vein, it may be worthwhile to keep watch over players such as Pogba and Sigurdsson who were far from automatic last season; Pogba converted a Wayne Rooney-esque 7 out of 10 tries in the EPL — which is painfully subpar compared to the more ruthless efficiency of Aguero/Kane/Milivojevic — while Siggy was a shambolic 2 for 5 in 2018-19 following a sterling 6 for 6 mark record beforehand.
  • With the number of clean sheets likely to decline, defenders will lose value, particularly those who do not contribute much or anything on the offensive end.
  • Goalkeepers will also suffer, especially those who offer little in the way of saves (such as Chelsea’s Kepa Arrizabalaga, who ranked #14 in that category last season), along with players who are notorious for struggling to stop PKs such as Manchester United’s David De Gea.

~

(NOTE: Statistics used in this article came via www.premierleague.com, www.uefa.com, www.wikipedia.org, and www.transfermarkt.com ).

~

What effect are you expecting from VAR in the Premier League this season? Please take the poll below, and then share your thoughts in the comments!

Poll

How much will you adjust your fantasy Premier League strategy this season due to the addition of VAR?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    Not at all
    (3 votes)
  • 45%
    Only a little bit
    (9 votes)
  • 35%
    A fair amount
    (7 votes)
  • 5%
    In a major way
    (1 vote)
20 votes total Vote Now

~