VAR's Impact On Europe's Top 5 Leagues

DATE POSTED: 14/06/2020

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In this penultimate deluge of stats we take a look at VAR's Impact On Europe's Top 5 Leagues.

Keep an eye on your inbox tomorrow for our final offering of Premier League stats...

TOMORROW (06:00 UK Time): Top 10 Premier League Teams By Penalties Scored.

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Apart from Liverpool's seemingly unstoppable march towards their first title in 30 years, the defining story of this season pre-lockdown was the controversial introduction of VAR. It is safe to say it hasn't gone down well.

Yet the video assistant referee review system is here to stay, warts and all. So how exactly has it changed football, not only in the Premier League, but across Europe? Spreadex's statisticians have dug into the numbers, and had a look at the prevailing trends across the continent.

And, repeatedly, the Premier League differs from the developments seen elsewhere.

VAR's Impact On Europe's Top 5 Leagues


This is perhaps one of the more surprising outcomes – and as we shall see, one that actually sees the Premier League as an outlier.

By exploring the ratio of penalty goals to total goals in the Premier League for the 5 seasons prior to the 2019/20 introduction of VAR, we observed that penalties made up an average of 6.94% of the total goals scored.

But for the as-yet-uncompleted 2019/20 season, only 6.39% of the goals scored have come from the spot. That's a 7.9% decline in the number of penalties scored after the introduction of VAR when compared to the 5 seasons prior.

That's in stark contrast to what Spreadex was expecting before the season began. Initially we were looking for 103 penalties scored against 1065 total goals – that's a penalty percentage of 9.67%, or a 39.3% increase on the 5-year average.

Now, the current forecast is an astonishing 35 penalties under the pre-season mark at 68. With 50 spot-kicks already scored, that leaves a penalty percentage of just 6.69% for the remainder of the season.

But, as mentioned, in this regard the Premier League seems to be an anomaly.


One of the factors behind the discrepancy between the Premier League and elsewhere may be that England was a late adopter of the technology.

The other 'big 5' leagues – that's the Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1 – all have at least one season extra of VAR under their belts. In the case of the Italian and German leagues it's an extra 2.

Using the same method of calculation – that's the average ratio of penalties scored to total goals for the 5 seasons prior to the introduction of VAR vs the same ratio after its introduction – and factoring in the differing sample sizes mentioned, the 'big 5' saw a massive 15.2% increase in number of penalties scored. And that's including the decline in the Premier League.

It is a global trend. Looking at all the leagues (with available data) that have implemented VAR, 86.7% of them have seen an increase in their penalty percentage, with an average increase across all 30 leagues studied of 13.3%. Number 1 with a bullet is the Chilean Primera Division, which has seen a whopping 126.9% surge in the number of penalties scored relative to its total goals.

Yet the number of penalties scored doesn't tell the whole story. You need to look at the conversion rate.


In all but one of the 'big 5' leagues in Europe spot-kick conversions rose. Top of the list was the ruthless forwards in La Liga, which saw a 9.3% increase in conversions post-VAR. That tracks with the fact the Spanish league also saw the biggest rise in its penalties scored, which climbed from 7.64% across the 5 seasons pre-VAR to 11.57% after it was introduced – that's a massive 51.5% increase.

Teams in Ligue 1, meanwhile, have faltered in front of goal, with penalty conversions down 3.4% since VAR was introduced.

As for the Premier League, even with the number of penalties scored down, spot-kick conversions actually rose 1.9%. Across all 5 leagues, a penalty taken is now 3.7% more likely to be scored now that the video assistant referee has its beady eye on proceedings.

Penalties being retaken due to encroachment is the likely cause of this (it has happened 4 times in the Premier League this year already). This conversion rate increase may rise further still once VAR is able to look at goalkeepers moving off their line too early, which is set to be introduced next season.

Finally, for a full overview of the post-VAR penalty situation, you have to dig into the number of penalties actually awarded.


Across the 'big 5' leagues, there was a 12% increase in the number of penalties awarded. However, that average masks a lot of variance from league to league.

Explaining why the number of penalties scored and converted is so much higher in La Liga is the fact Spanish referees have been liberally awarding spot-kicks – a remarkable 32.7% more than before the introduction of VAR.

In contrast, the number of penalties awarded in the Premier League has dropped by 10.1%, with a 3.7% decline in the Bundesliga.

Those differences become very interesting when you consider the culture of the game in each country, and what refereeing blind spots VAR may have ended up addressing from one league to another.

So, broadly, penalties are up. But what about injury time?


Once again the stats put the Premier League as something of an outsider. In England injury time has risen 12.2%, or 44 seconds, since VAR was implemented.

Yet compared to its European peers, the Premier League has plenty of room for growth. Injury time in La Liga has risen by 92.8 seconds – a 41.6% increase on pre-VAR – with an extra 82.4 seconds in the Bundesliga and 82 seconds in Ligue 1. Only Serie A really compares to the Premier League, with just 54 seconds of extra additional time.

Overall, across all 5 leagues, there is an average 71 seconds more injury time than before VAR's introduction. That amounts to a 1.3% extension on average for every single match, with that stat carrying the admitted caveat that the ball is not necessarily in play for any longer.

It is also worth noting that the biggest increases came in 1st half injury time, especially in Germany and Spain.

With more penalties and more injury time, surely there has been more sending offs? Well...


In what might be the single most shocking find of this entire study, despite the rise in penalties and injury time, the number of red cards dished out has actually gone down.

The 5-year average pre-VAR saw a red card feature in 13.5% of Premier League games. Since video assisted refereeing came in, that figure has dropped to 12.5% of games played in 2019/20. That's a 7.4% decline in the number of red cards given out.

This actually puts the Premier League ahead of the European average. Across all of the 'big 5', the number of sending offs has fallen by 5.8%, with only Ligue 1 failing to see a decrease.

In the Premier League, VAR officials have seemed very reluctant thus far to overturn the referee's original decision, particularly when it comes to possible red cards not given initially.

In fact only 2 red cards not given on the field have been awarded following VAR consultation (Son Heung-min and Ben Godfrey) and even then the ban for Son was successfully appealed against. There have been 3 red cards which were originally given but then overturned by VAR (Joel Ward, Aaron Cresswell and Chris Basham). Players perhaps feel they can't get away with what they used to be able to given the extra eyes that are constantly on them.

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We hope you're finding these stats interesting and useful. Back one final time tomorrow with a look at Top 10 Premier League Teams By Penalties Scored.


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