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One moment: Less than Sterling offside call blows Villa away

Villa are denied by the distant assistant once more in this week’s ‘one moment’

Manchester City v Aston Villa - Premier League Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

One Moment is a rebooted post-game Aston Villa column that takes a closer look at one single moment from the last Villa game. This week, we’re looking at the moment when City scored a controversial second goal.

What was the moment that changed the game today? The moment that really unlocked and underscored the three-nil scoreline as Manchester City devoured Aston Villa at the Etihad? It’s not the air-raid ball that caught out Tyrone Mings and the defence. It’s not even the Sterling-lock on Marvelous Nakamba in the build-up to Manchester City’s third goal. It’s certainly not the moment that John McGinn clipped the post either. The answer? It’s the moment that Raheem Sterling drifted into an off-side position and interfered with play after David Silva toed the ball into the goal from a Kevin De Bruyne cross.

Indeed, it looks like we will have to talk about VAR again, in a conversation that never feels like it has truly concluded.

Every time that a matchday referee stops play to consult the Video Assistant Referee, Aston Villa must feel as though they undergo a minor apocalypse. All their work - their hard work - collapsed into a sucking and devouring pit. You can feel the weight of their efforts hang in the air. There’s a feel sense of momentum to these stoppages, and you can really see the spirit leak from AVFC when the referee puts his finger to his ear to consult his distant assistant.

Simply put, there’s a genuine belief now, or at least a tangible feeling, that when the referee consults VAR - the decision is not going to go Aston Villa’s way. The latest VAR call to go against Aston Villa certainly felt like a gut-punch, especially after a forensic review.

The scene of the crime? Belgian pass-master Kevin De Bruyne whips a low cross into the box. Sterling bursts forth to attack it, but David Silva arrives first. The Spanish veteran, who will be looked back upon as a footballing wizard when his time in the game concludes, appears to get a slice of a stud onto the falling ball, enough to catch out Villa goalkeeper Tom Heaton. As Silva deflects it with the slightest graze, Raheem Sterling must pirouette out of the way of the ball, into the path of Heaton, blocking the goalkeepers view and allowing the ball into the net.

Sterling, if Silva has touched the ball, is in an offside position and obstructing the goalkeeper who cannot make a move. If Silva did not touch the ball, the goal is legitimate and awarded to De Bruyne as Sterling was onside for De Bruyne’s initial shot.

The actual goalscorer of that goal is under review. It could be De Bruyne, it could be Silva. Officials at the Premier League will have to review the footage and award the goal at a later time.

The issue? David Silva claimed the goal, and was adamant that he had touched the ball and scored the goal. His protests, ironically, could’ve lead to a situation where the goal was disallowed as Sterling was obstructing the view of the goalkeeper from an offside position.

The Premier League have constructed an odd Maginot Line with VAR. There is not a single soul who can argue with any honesty that the PL’s interpretation of VAR benefits the audience, referees, or players at all. However, the league have been stoic in their defence of the system and seemingly leaked positive reports of VAR’s performance to The Athletic’s David Ornstein earlier this week. The party line outside of the stadium is that their clumsy and aggressive interpretation of VAR works. However, the loudest voice in the stadium is chanting ‘F**k VAR’.

Cui bono

The goal stood, after a lengthy VAR check as it could not be ruled that Silva actually touched the ball - and the Premier League will not come out to override this as it would ‘kill’ what they perceive to be a ‘positive reaction’ to VAR’s implementation.

VAR was correctly used in this situation, as there is no way in hell that the linesman or the referee could accurately judge this offside call. Silva’s studs sliced the ball in rapid action, and we are talking micrometers here. To override the on-pitch call of a goal would not be a critique of the referee on the day, who wouldn’t be able to make the right call without assistance anyway.

However, the main conversation probably shouldn’t be whether VAR was right or wrong - but how these decisions affect Aston Villa. They looked completely lost after Manchester City’s second goal, and it would be perhaps easier to swallow if there wasn’t a delay to check, and then rule the goal as a legitimate goal anyway. Villa were broken, and their poor defending for Manchester City’s third goal is a good example of their floor-level morale after the VAR call.

At the end of the day, this VAR call doesn’t change much. Sterling was dominant. Raheem Sterling is a force of nature in football games. There is an aura, a magnetism that surrounds him. He reached the elite level of footballers a while ago, and his quality seems to be on an upward trajectory. The talent ceiling here for a footballer of Sterling’s capabilities is stratospheric. He is mesmerising when running at goal, and almost seems to be jogging over water, such is the delicate nature of his sprint. He is at the fore-front of everything that Manchester City do on the pitch, and is an iconic player in his own right.

Manchester City were also dominant. The matchup with them earlier today was a game of one-half. After a solemn first forty-five, Sterling was able to involve himself heavily in City’s opening two goals, both of which provided much of the platform for the 3-0 victory. Sterling’s goals deflated Aston Villa, who had fought quite hard to enter the break on equal footing.

The VAR call broke them. Should officiating be capable of that?