The VAR Review: Why Casemiro's goal for Man United was onside

Casemiro nods home late winner for Man United (1:08)

Casemiro heads in Bruno Fernandes' free-kick to give Manchester United a 1-0 win at Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup. (1:08)

Manchester United beat Nottingham Forest 1-0 in the FA Cup on Wednesday courtesy of a dramatic late goal from Casemiro. That set up a quarterfinal meeting with Liverpool at Old Trafford in a little over two weeks' time (stream LIVE on ESPN+).

Yet it caused much consternation among Liverpool fans, who felt that Virgil van Dijk had a goal wrongly ruled out for offside through a VAR intervention three days earlier in the Reds' 1-0 win against Chelsea in the final of the Carabao Cup.

- How VAR decisions have affected every Prem club in 2023-24
- VAR in the Premier League: Ultimate guide

Possible offside: Varane on Casemiro goal

What happened: Manchester United had a free kick on the left flank in the 89th minute. Bruno Fernandes delivered to the near post and Casemiro stole in ahead of the defence to nod past goalkeeper Matt Turner. As the players ran off to celebrate, the VAR checked for a possible offside against Raphaël Varane.

VAR decision: Goal stands.

VAR review: This situation taps into so many things about VAR that cause frustration among fans, yet can never be solved in a sport which is governed largely by subjective decisions.

I've explained before how the aim of VAR isn't to give consistency of decision-making; it exists to make judgements about each situation on its merits. Two may appear to be similar, but they are never actually the same.

So just because Liverpool have a goal disallowed after Wataru Endo was judged to have blocked off Levi Colwill from an offside position, that doesn't automatically mean Manchester United should have a goal ruled out because Varane stopped Felipe. It's just not that simple.

The referee for both matches was Chris Kavanagh, yet that wouldn't be the line of consistency even if it truly mattered. For the Carabao Cup final, John Brooks was in the VAR chair; for this FA Cup game, it was Darren Bond. Yet even if the VAR was the same person, they would still be making a judgement on the incident, and not looking to make the decision they had a few days before.

Referees have different views based upon the interpretation of the laws, which is why ultimate consistency was impossible even before VAR, and is exacerbated by a review system that just involves another subjective opinion.

So, how can it be correct to give Endo offside, yet also decide Varane didn't commit an offside offence?

The threshold for a VAR intervention on an off-the-ball subjective offside is lower, as the officials are unlikely to have seen that the blocker was ahead of the defence. Even so, it's fair to have the view that giving the Endo decision was harsh, and that it was too forensic for the VAR to get involved.

As discussed on Sunday, this kind of blocking move goes on at free kicks all the time in the Premier League, but there are two key considerations: is the player offside, and if so, have they impacted an opponent from getting involved in the play? In the vast majority of cases, if the blocking player is offside, they aren't stopping a player who has the chance to challenge for the ball -- so the VAR won't get involved. And, of course, in most cases a goal isn't scored so the VAR wouldn't have the remit to look at similar blocking from an offside position.

The law states: "if a player moving from, or standing in, an offside position is in the way of an opponent and interferes with the movement of the opponent towards the ball, this is an offside offence if it impacts on the ability of the opponent to play or challenge for the ball."

Varane being in an offside position and blocking Felipe is in itself not the offside offence, it's whether Felipe could get involved in the play. It's understandable, after the events of Sunday, that fans could believe it's the same as Endo. Yet the Varane incident actually provides the perfect example of blocking from an offside position that will not be punished.

Let's start will the Endo offence as a marker. Andy Robertson plays in a high, looping free kick. The Chelsea defensive line is on the edge of the box, which means there will be runners from both teams looking to meet the ball.

Colwill would have had a clear, open run into the dropping zone of the ball, with the VAR believing this showed evidence than the Chelsea defender would have been able to challenge -- it was the crucial point for the review. The law doesn't demand that Colwill will win the ball, only that his ability to make a challenge for it has been affected. This is the area that, subjectively, is open for debate and Liverpool fans will certainly disagree with.

Now, let's look at the possible Varane offside and the considerations the VAR will use. Why is it so different?

Fernandes didn't play a flighted ball. It was a low free kick, hit with pace, which bounced at the near post before Casemiro got ahead of the defence to score. This alone hugely reduces the ability of any player who isn't close to Casemiro from being able to get involved.

The Forest defensive line is also deeper, on the penalty spot rather than on the edge of the area, which means there are no natural space for runners, with an already reduced dropping zone due to the low, fast delivery. Therefore, the possibility to impact a defender who isn't directly challenging the goal scorer is minimal.

In the Van Dijk goal, the Chelsea defence drops deep into the box before the free kick is met. With the United goal, the defensive line drops only a few yards.

Equally as important, Felipe has two Forest teammates and another United player between himself and Casemiro. Colwill, however, would have had an unopposed run at the dropping zone but for Endo.

That Felipe ends up on the floor isn't the deciding factor. It's only whether he was impacted from being able to challenge.

While there's a debate to be had over the Endo incident, there is no viable offside offence by Varane.