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Bundesliga VAR by the numbers

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The Bundesliga has released the data on VAR — and it’s not bad.

Eintracht Frankfurt v FC Bayern Muenchen - Bundesliga Photo by Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images

It seems that with each game the new VAR system comes ever more into focus as a source of controversy among both fans and pundits. The Bundesliga keeps track of the statistics relating to VAR reviews, and so far the data looks like the system is working pretty well. While it has it’s failings, the numbers indicate that VAR has reduced clearly wrong decisions and player protests and even decreased the amount of dead time fans are subjected to during a televised match.

Jochen Drees and his team on the VAR Task Force are charged with tracking VAR results both qualitatively and quantitatively for the purpose of improving the system.

The raw data for the 2018-2019 season (as of matchday 10) looks like this:

  • There were a total of 111 VAR recommendations for a change of a decision
  • Referees changed their decision 92 times either with or without viewing the video themselves
  • 82 incidents where the wrong decision was overturned by the referee or VAR;
  • 17 incidents where the VAR incorrectly intervened but did not impact the referee’s correct decision;
  • 10 incidents where VAR should have intervened but failed to do so; and
  • Only two incidents where the VAR and referee jointly arrived at an indefensible decision

So what does this mean in terms of game play? This works out to 0.36 changed decisions per game or about one changed decision for every three matches. The rate in the EPL is significantly lower at 0.26 per match or about one for every four matches. Reviews that only involve communication with Cologne take about 45 seconds, while those that involve a referee reviewing the video themselves take just over a minute.

Perhaps most interestingly the VAR era has seen an increase in actual match playing time from 55 minutes and 37 seconds per match in 2016-2017 to 57 minutes and 50 seconds last season, a substantial increase of over two minutes. While some ascribe this to the fourth officials getting better at tracking lost time, some feel that a great deal of time is being saved by reducing or eliminating player protests over calls.

Referee educator Alex Feuerherdt studies and advises on all aspects of officiating and in shared his thoughts on VAR in a recent interview with The Athletic:

Whereas players would shout at him for ages to overturn his decision to give a late penalty, they now tend to wait for VAR to get involved and are more willing to accept the ultimate verdict. In practice, it has also often helped if referees “sell” their decision to the players by taking a second look themselves in crucial situations.

Referees have compared VAR to an airbag — it’s a safety tool to prevent a fatal crash, they say. They now know that their decision will not be completely wrong. Differences of opinion will never cease to exist but at least they won’t get slammed in the press for making an outlandish mistake for a whole week anymore.

Feuerherdt concedes that there were significant growing pains along the way but is pleased with current status of the system:

They were very interventionist and overly concerned with playing detective, attempting to uncover tiny fouls in the build-up and so on. Following a change of personnel and some guidance from IFAB (the International Football Association Board), things became more settled in the second half of that season. Referees were perhaps a little too quick to check the monitor for a spell but this, too, has since become more streamlined.

So while VAR still has a large and vocal group of detractors, by the numbers, it looks to be a solid success.