Explaining the offside drama in Liverpool vs. Wolves

Liverpool and Wolverhampton Wanderers played out a 2-2 draw in the third round of the FA Cup at Anfield, but there were two controversial offside decisions. This is what happened.

Goal disallowed: Nunes offside on Toti goal

What happened: In the 81st minute, Toti thought he had scored the winning goal goal for Wolves, but the assistant raised his flag for offside.

VAR decision: Offside stands.

VAR review: This was a decision which confused most fans, because there was no offside in the move that directly led to Toti scoring. So why did the flag go up?

The move began with a corner taken by Matheus Nunes. After the delivery into the box, the last attacking touch was by Hwang Hee-Chan — this sets the offside phase. Nunes was the next player to receive the ball. The assistant delayed his flag and raised it after the goal was scored, as Nunes was in an offside position running back to receive the ball at the start of the move.

That the ball was headed backwards by Hwang is irrelevant for an offside decision.

The VAR, Mike Dean, had to go with the decision of the assistant because there were no definitive calibrated camera angles to show the position of Nunes and the last defender when Hwang heads the ball. For that reason, the VAR has to go with the on-field decision. With semi-automated offside technology, where every player is tracked, this wouldn’t happen.

The lack of clarity for everyone watching, however, further underlines the problems that a lack of communication about decision-making causes.

We saw a similar incident earlier this season when Gabriel Martinelli’s goal for Arsenal against Liverpool had to stand as the VAR could not use a calibrated camera to make a decision on an offside position for Bukayo Saka.

Possible offside: Salah when scoring

What happened: Liverpool took the lead in the 52nd minute when he Cody Gakpo tried to find Mohamed Salah with a ball over the top. Toti made a failed attempt to clear with a header and Salah collected the loose ball to score. But should there have been an offside?

VAR decision: Goal stands.

VAR review: It’s a controversial decision, and goes right to the heart of what is a “deliberate play” by a defender. There is no doubt Salah is in an offside position, but if the officials judge Toti’s actions to be a “deliberate play”, Salah cannot be penalised or offside.

In short, a “deliberate play” only applies when a defender has control over where the ball goes. There are many factors which are taken into account, and an attempted header is judged more in favour of the defender than a kick. This is because there is, generally, less control in heading a ball.

If a defender has to stretch or jump to head the ball, this is an extra layer for determining that it’s not a “deliberate play”.

Dean decided not to intervene in the on-field decision to allow the goal. However. we are likely to see similar instances where a goal is disallowed.

It’s a hugely subjective area of offside, and Wolves can consider themselves very unfortunate to have conceded this goal too.