Virgil van Dijk: Referee Michael Oliver admits mistake over Jordan Pickford tackle on Liverpool defender

Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk required knee surgery after Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford's challenge during October's Merseyside derby; Oliver: "We got sucked too much into going step by step as opposed to thinking of the bigger process"

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Watch the challenge in which van Dijk was injured by Pickford

Premier League referee Michael Oliver has admitted he made a mistake by not sending off Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford for a challenge that led to a serious knee injury for Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk.

Oliver came in for criticism after Pickford's challenge in the Merseyside derby on October 17 left Van Dijk needing surgery on damaged anterior cruciate ligaments, from which he is now recovering.

Although Pickford's challenge took place in the Everton penalty area, a spot-kick was not awarded because a Video Assistant Referee review showed Van Dijk to have been offside, but Oliver could have still dismissed the England goalkeeper for serious foul play or violent conduct.

Virgil van Dijk injury 3 2:57
Dermot Gallagher tells Ref Watch Jordan Pickford should have been sent off for his challenge on Virgil van Dijk regardless of the offside

Oliver told the Daily Mail: "The thought initially was, 'it can't be a penalty because it's offside so we need to check the offside first'. I think I said to the VAR, 'if it's not offside, I'm going to give a penalty'. I have watched it back so many times. I genuinely don't think Pickford has done anything apart from try to spread himself but he did it the wrong way, as the injury has shown.

"We have all, myself included, not thought about the challenge as much as should have done. We could still have given offside and sent Pickford off. What I was surprised about looking at it afterwards was that nothing was expected on-field in terms of a red card. None of the players were asking for that.

"We got sucked too much into going step by step as opposed to thinking of the bigger process, which was considering the challenge as well and not just the fact it can't be a penalty. We should have restarted with the offside, as we did, but with a different punishment for Jordan Pickford."

Michael Oliver refereed a controversial Merseyside derby in October 2020
Image: Oliver refereed the controversial Merseyside derby in October

Having been introduced to the Premier League last season, the use of VAR continues to split opinion, but Oliver is in no doubt about the system's merits.

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"I know VAR has become an obsession," Oliver said. "But I am for it. There is all the clamour about it changing the game. But if you scrapped it tomorrow lunchtime, all you would hear all weekend would be people shouting 'that would be a pen with VAR'. As soon as you moved it away, people would want it back.

"Ultimately, even with VAR, it's still my decision. I'm the one who makes the decision on the field. And if I get it right first time around, there is no reason for VAR to get involved. Now that I can go and watch on a pitchside monitor, you've got a second chance, too. You can change your mind or stick with it.

Michael Oliver reviews a decision using the VAR pitch-side monitor
Image: Oliver reviews a decision using the VAR pitch-side monitor

"I think VAR's helped the game. You are getting more fair decisions. You are getting the acceptance of players. If you go across to the monitor, there is more of an acceptance on-field because players are happy that at least two people have seen it. You have seen it live, someone else has seen pictures."

"It's helped with the abuse we get, too. Players are not complaining persistently about decisions that happened 20 minutes ago. They are happy it's been spotted, happy it's been checked. They say what they think and then the world moves on."

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