Gusto red card and Haaland penalty: Chelsea’s controversial VAR decisions this season

Cameron Smith
Cameron Smith
  • 22 Feb 2024 16:00 GMT
  • 7 min read
Malo Gusto, Erling Haaland, Chelsea, VAR, 2023/24

VAR has been an inherently controversial addition to the Premier League since it was introduced ahead of the 2019-20 season and Chelsea have been on the end of several dubious calls.

The Blues have seen decisions go for and against them since VAR was introduced and this season has been no different.

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Below, FootballTransfers runs through every controversial VAR decision involving Chelsea during the 2023-24 season.


Tottenham 1-4 Chelsea (6 November 2023): Christian Romero and Destiny Udogie red cards

This game was an absolute thriller, with Chelsea running out 4-1 winners over nine-men Tottenham Hotspur, who refused to sit deep and set the highest defensive line in Premier League history, which Chelsea largely struggled to navigate.

There were nine VAR checks in the first-half, with Brennan Johnson, Raheem Sterling, Moises Caicedo and Nicolas Jackson all denied goals, while Destiny Udogie and Christian Romero both avoided red cards despite an awful challenge on Raheem Sterling from the former and a kick out at Levi Colwill from the latter.

However, they were both shown red cards later in the game and would’ve been included in the ‘Against Chelsea’ category if not.

Romero exited the pitch after a horrible challenge on Enzo Fernandez inside the penalty area, with the Tottenham defender catching his international team-mate with his studs. The incident is initially missed, but a VAR review sees Romero sent off, despite the fact he got the ball first.

Udogie was later sent off for a second bookable offence in the second-half, but the Italian could have been shown his marching orders far earlier after the aforementioned high-stud challenge on Sterling.

Spurs boss Ange Postecoglou was not happy with numerous decisions that he believed went against his side.

Chelsea 2-1 Crystal Palace (27 December 2023): Noni Madueke penalty

This was initially missed by referee Michael Salisbury, but after a VAR review, he awarded Chelsea a last-minute penalty after Eberechi Eze was adjudged to have fouled Noni Madueke inside the 18-yard box.

There wasn’t a huge amount of contact, but Madueke’s knee evidently buckled after being knocked by Eze, so a penalty was probably the right decision. However, Roy Hodgson was not happy and the last-minute nature of it ensured it was a controversial call.

Chelsea 1-0 Fulham (13 January 2024): Malo Gusto yellow card

Malo Gusto escaped with just a yellow card after an over-the-ball studs-up challenge on Willian during Chelsea’s 1-0 victory against Fulham in January.

After a tussle with Tom Cairney, Gusto lunged into a tackle on former Chelsea winger Willian and he caught the Fulham man just above the ankle with his studs.

However, he avoided a red card, with only a yellow brandished. A 50/50 one, but we’ve definitely seen challenges like this result in a sending off and Gusto should have probably been shown a red card.


Chelsea 0-1 Aston Villa (24 September 2023): Malo Gusto red card

Chelsea dominated this game, but a late Ollie Watkins goal ensured Aston Villa took all three points back to Birmingham after Malo Gusto’s sending off.

The Frenchman was shown a straight red card in the 58th minute following a challenge on Villa left-back Lucas Digne.

Gusto evidently got the ball with his slide tackle, but the force saw him clatter into Digne in a reckless fashion, with the Villa man’s ankle buckling due to the challenge. He certainly played the ball first, however the follow-through was what saw him sent off, despite it initially being missed by the on-field referee Jarred Gillett.

Many Chelsea fans were angry about the decision due to the fact the VAR officials demanded to show Gillett a freeze-frame of Gusto’s contact on Digne’s ankle first. Rather than play a full-speed video first, the decision was already made for Gillett by VAR - something that shouldn’t happen.

Whether it was a red card or not, VAR were wrong to make up Gillett’s mind with a screenshot rather than a full-speed replay.

Chelsea 4-4 Man City (12 November 2023): Erling Haaland penalty

In a thrilling 4-4 draw against Manchester City, Marc Cucurella conceded a penalty after grappling with Norwegian stroller Erling Haaland at the back post.

The City star was bundled over by Cucurella, suggesting the decision to award a penalty was correct, but the only reason he managed to get in front of the Spaniard was because he fouled Cucurella first.

This was pointed out on Sky Sports commentary by Jamie Carragher, who said: “No, this is not right. I am looking at the back post… Cucurella, initially, he is tight, he is aggressive with Erling Haaland… no, this is not right. That is not the right decision.

“When the VAR looked at it and confirmed they were giving a penalty, they were looking at the end of that tussle. You have got to look at the start of it. The reason Haaland finds himself ahead of Cucurella is because he pulls his shirt. I think it is very harsh on Chelsea.

— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) November 13, 2023

“I think it is six of one and half a dozen of the other. There is no doubt at the end [of the clip] it looks a certain penalty. I think they [the VAR] have got to take it a little bit back… that shot we have just seen [of Haaland grappling with Cucurella].”

Despite this, VAR decided that a penalty was the correct decision and didn’t take Haaland’s shirt pull on Cucurella into account.

Chelsea were further aggrieved as they claimed Jeremy Doku had fouled Moises Caicedo in the build-up, with the Belgian pushing the Blues midfielder into Reece James, causing both Chelsea players to fall to the floor.

Liverpool 4-1 Chelsea (31 January 2024): Conor Gallagher, Christopher Nkunku and Diogo Jota penalties

This game saw Liverpool run out deserving winners after a brilliant performance against Chelsea, although the result could have been far different with several VAR decisions.

Firstly, Conor Gallagher's appeal for a first-half penalty was waved away by Paul Tierney, despite the fact there was clear contact from Virgil van Dijk. In the second-half, the Dutchman got away with another one as kicked the back of Christopher Nkunku's foot with no punishment.

VAR did not recommend an on-field review for either decision.

The most controversial element of this game, however, was that Liverpool were awarded a first-half penalty after a foul from Benoit Badiashile on Diogo Jota. While it can be argued that giving a penalty was the right decision, there was the same level of contact on Jota as there was on both Gallagher and Nkunku, yet Chelsea weren't awarded penalties and Liverpool were.

This will go down as a referee error rather than a VAR one, though, as the decisions on their own weren't wrong enough to demand a VAR intervention.

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