The Sunday News
RAHEEM Sterling scored a hat-trick as Manchester City got their title defence off to a winning start with victory at West Ham in a game that saw the video assistant referee (VAR) play a significant role for the first time in the Premier League.
The technology is making its debut in England’s top flight this season and, after last night’s curtain raiser between Liverpool and Norwich passed off without incident, it took centre-stage on Saturday.
VAR was first called on when Gabriel Jesus appeared to have put City 3-0 up midway through the second half, only for Raheem Sterling to be ruled fractionally offside in the build-up.
After Sterling added City’s third, a moment also reviewed for possible offside, the system then awarded the visitors a penalty retake after Sergio Aguero’s tame effort was saved by Lukasz Fabianski but Declan Rice was deemed to have encroached into the area.
The striker made no mistake at the second attempt.
This was, nevertheless, a dominant and deserved victory for Pep Guardiola’s side, who laid down a marker for the season ahead in emphatic fashion.
The visitors had looked a little short of their best early on but they took the lead midway through the first half when Jesus flicked in Kyle Walker’s low ball into the box.
They doubled their advantage six minutes into the second half, Sterling sliding in a low shot after being put through by Kevin de Bruyne.
After Jesus’ VAR-denied effort, a third did come for City as Sterling ran on to a ball over the defence before coolly lobbing Fabianski. And after Aguero’s retaken penalty, Sterling got his third in injury time to complete the rout.
The advent of VAR has been controversial, not least during a summer in which it was criticised for the confusion it caused within stadiums and the time it took to make decisions at the Women’s World Cup.
The Premier League, however, had vowed to ensure its use would have minimum impact on the spectacle. That was certainly the case at Anfield on Friday night, where its use did not disrupt the flow of the game.
Initially, that continued in this game as a couple of early incidents were checked and a decision made in seconds.
But its first controversial moment arrived early in the second half when City, 2-0 up and looking comfortable, appeared to score a third when they opened the West Ham defence with quick football before Sterling teed up Jesus to slot in.
The away fans started celebrating wildly — until “VAR in review” appeared on the big screen. After a few moments of checking, the goal was ruled out with Sterling’s shoulder just beyond the offside line.
City fans were understandably more cautious when Sterling stuck the ball in the back of the net soon after and there were ironic cheers when “VAR in review” once again appeared on the big screen.
But this time the goal stood and from then on the fans were in playful mood, occasionally chanting “VAR, VAR”. But frustrations started to creep in again when Aguero’s penalty had to be retaken.
If its use in this game is anything to go by, the controversy over VAR is not going to go away anytime soon.
Liverpool 4 – 1 Norwich
West Ham 0 – 5 Man City
Bournemouth 1 – 1 Sheff Utd
Burnley 3 – 0 Southampton
Crystal Palace 0 – 0 Everton
Watford 0 – 3 Brighton
— BBC Sport