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Is VAR in use for the 2023/24 Carabao Cup final?

For Jose Mourinho, each football game began in the pre-match press conference and didn’t end until he delivered his sharpened barbs to the media after the 90-minute sideshow.

Mauricio Pochettino took a leaf out of his Chelsea predecessor’s book with some pointed lines directed towards the match officials ahead of Sunday’s Carabao Cup final against Liverpool.

The Blues boss implored the referee to “be fair in every single decision”. Chelsea were thrashed 4-1 by Liverpool in the club’s first game after Jurgen Klopp announced he would be stepping down last month. Pochettino was wary of any bias towards his outgoing opposite number.

“Not one key decision was for us,” the Argentine huffed. “Two penalties were not given. Duels, 50-50s, always for another colour. Always red.”

The use of VAR in England’s domestic cup competitions rarely follows any logical pattern. So let’s take a look at whether Pochettino will be fretting over the Liverpool leanings of any individuals at Stockley Park as well as the on-pitch official.

Jurgen Klopp

Jurgen Klopp’s side have a spotty (at best) record with VAR this season / James Gill – Danehouse/GettyImages

The lack of a video assistant referee (VAR) in the Carabao Cup semi-finals benefitted Pochettino’s Chelsea. There was no opportunity for the referee to take another look at a clumsy challenge from Axel Disasi on Middlesbrough’s Emmanuel Latte Lath in the opening minute of the first leg at the Riverside Stadium.

Liverpool comfortably eased past Fulham at the same stage but also didn’t have VAR to fall back upon even though both legs took place at Premier League grounds fitted with the technology. As Championship side Middlesbrough were not licensed to carry the equipment, the competition’s organisers deemed it unfair to only implement the system in half of the semi-finals.

Since taking an early step into the technological age for the 2018/19 campaign, the Carabao Cup has brought in VAR for the semi-final and finals. While the FA Cup deploys the technology only at Premier League grounds as soon as they enter in the third round, England’s secondary cup competition employs a more consistent approach.

Middlesbrough’s run to the semi-finals forced a structural rejig but the final will be watched over by the eye of Stockley Park for as long as the technology is in use. Wembley, the showpiece venue, is kitted out with the equipment so every final is guaranteed to have VAR regardless of the clubs involved.

John Brooks

John Brooks will be watching on from afar on Sunday / Richard Sellers/Allstar/GettyImages

While Chris Kavanagh will take to the pitch for the first cup final of the English calendar, John Brooks is the designated VAR.

Incidentally, Brooks was the video-assisted official watching Chelsea’s implosion against Liverpool in January which left Pochettino seething.

That night, the Reds dominated their visitors – scoring twice and clattering a post from Darwin Nunez’s penalty before Chelsea attempted their first shot (on or off target) of the match – but were perhaps fortunate to avoid two penalties. On either side of half-time, Virgil van Dijk got away with an unwise nibble inside the 18-yard box. Paul Tierney was the on-pitch referee for that encounter and turned down both calls without any intervention from Brooks.

The Leicestershire-based official has been in the VAR booth for eight Chelsea matches in his career, including five already this season. While he has witnessed the humbling at Anfield and a 4-1 mauling away to Newcastle United, Brooks was also behind the monitors for Chelsea’s bonkers victory over Tottenham Hotspur in November.

Spurs boss Ange Postecoglou questioned the existence of VAR after an incident-soaked contest but Pochettino wasn’t complaining that night. “It was an amazing day for us,” he gushed.

Liverpool’s victory over Chelsea was not the only game in which Brooks made some favourable calls for the Reds. At the end of a desperately scratchy victory over Crystal Palace in December, the Selhurst Park crowd ironically chanted: “2-1 to the referee”.

Jordan Ayew’s controversial red card handed Liverpool a lifeline while they were trailing by a goal in the second half. Palace’s then-manager Roy Hodgson admitted that he was “not a great lover of VAR” and asked: “So who’s refereeing the game?”

“I’m in a bad mood,” Hodgson concluded. It remains to be seen if Brooks gets on the wrong side of Klopp, Pochettino or both this weekend.


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