Champions League without VAR: Man City joy, despair for Man Utd & Spurs?
Manchester City are playing against Liverpool in Saturday’s Champions League final. Or maybe it’s Atletico Madrid v Liverpool. Or even Atletico v Roma. Paris St-Germain could even be there.
And Mauricio Pochettino – whose Spurs side lost agonisingly to City in the quarter-finals – has just been named Manchester United manager after caretaker boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who oversaw their last-16 defeat by Paris St-Germain, returned to Molde.
Welcome to the parallel world where the video assistant referee (VAR) system was not introduced after the group stages.
Man Utd fall short against PSG, Solskjaer returns to Molde
Manchester United came to the Parc des Princes on the back of a 2-0 first-leg defeat by Paris St-Germain in this last-16 tie.
Romelu Lukaku scored twice in the first half in the French capital, with a Juan Bernat strike for PSG squeezed in between.
The game appeared to be petering out, with United one goal short, when Diogo Dalot’s late speculative shot struck Presnel Kimpembe on the arm and went out for a corner.
In a VAR-less world, that was that and PSG went through. Neymar would give a shout-out on Instagram to a good refereeing decision.
But in real life, Damir Skomina watched the incident on the screen and gave United a penalty for handball, which Marcus Rashford blasted home in the 94th minute to send them through on away goals.
The comeback was so impressive that it increased calls for caretaker boss Solskjaer to be given a permanent deal. The Norwegian got the job later that month.
However, United won only twice in the 12 games after that famous night in Paris – losing eight times – so would Solskjaer really have been given his three-year deal without that victory?
Parallel result: Paris St-German win 3-2 on aggregate and face Barcelona in the quarter-finals. Solskjaer goes back to Molde after his spell as caretaker manager.
Atletico beat Juventus with home rout
In the real world, Atletico Madrid – whose Wanda Metropolitano home is hosting this year’s Champions League final – beat Juventus 2-0 in the Spanish capital.
But they were then beaten 3-0 by Juve in Turin, thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick at the Allianz Stadium, to exit at the last-16 stage.
However, the Spaniards had both a penalty and a goal overturned by VAR in the first leg – both at 0-0.
Referee Felix Zwayer awarded Atleti a first-half spot-kick when Mattia de Sciglio brought down Diego Costa. But he overturned the decision after the VAR officials told him the offence had taken place outside the box.
Diego Simeone’s side then thought they had taken the lead when Alvaro Morata headed home from Filipe Luis’ cross, but after watching the incident again on a pitch-side screen, Zwayer ruled the striker had shoved Giorgio Chiellini before getting the ball.
Both decisions were probably correct in the end but, if they had happened in the group stages, Atletico would have had a penalty and goal… before their two actual goals.
Parallel result: Atletico Madrid win 4-3 on aggregate to set up a quarter-final against Ajax.
Roma v Porto goes to penalties
These sides played out a bit of a thriller in the last 16. Roma won the first leg 2-1 at home, but Porto matched that scoreline in the second leg to send it into extra time.
Maxi Pereira flashed a shot wide in the 113th minute which Fernando was not able to get on the end of. Or so referee Cuneyt Cakir thought, initially awarding a goal kick.
But after a three-minute delay and watching the incident on the pitch-side screen, he ruled that Alessandro Florenzi had pulled Fernando back to stop him getting the ball.
Alex Telles scored the penalty to make it 4-3 on aggregate and Porto went through. Roma boss Eusebio di Francesco was sacked the next day and replaced by Claudio Ranieri. But without VAR it would have gone to penalties.
Parallel result: The game goes to penalties, Roma win (maybe) and Di Francesco keeps his job. Roma play Liverpool in the quarter-finals in a repeat of last season’s semi-final, a tie the Reds won 7-6 on aggregate.
Sterling the hero as Man City beat Spurs
A game for the ages between Manchester City and Spurs in the quarter-finals.
After a 1-0 Tottenham win in the first leg in London, four goals in the first 21 minutes at Etihad Stadium set up an absolute thriller – with the visitors leading on away goals going into injury time.
Christian Eriksen needlessly loses possession before Bernardo Silva knocks the ball through to Sergio Aguero in the 93rd minute. The Argentine looks up and picks out Raheem Sterling, who puts City into the last four.
City are delirious, Sterling goes sliding towards the corner flag and Pep Guardiola runs down the touchline punching the air.
Referee Cakir awards the goal and it’s all over… except in the real world he liaises with the VAR team and they decide Aguero was offside, so the goal is disallowed.
Guardiola recently reminded journalists that City might have beaten Liverpool in the quarters last season if VAR had been introduced – Leroy Sane had a goal controversially disallowed for offside – and this season they would have been in the semi-finals without it.
Parallel result: Manchester City go through 4-3 on aggregate to face Ajax in the last four (unless Atletico beat Ajax…) and the quadruple remains a very real possibility.
This is just for fun and we know this piece is ultimately pointless because VAR was in effect. And we know there is no parallel universe – this writer has been watching too much Stranger Things recently.
We have only mentioned incidents here which the referee had initially awarded the other way, and only the ones which changed the outcome of the game.
And BBC Sport is aware that causal effect means if one thing happened differently, then everything else in the game could have happened differently as a result.
Back to the real world and good luck to Liverpool and Tottenham in Saturday’s final in Madrid. And who knows, maybe VAR could affect the outcome of that one too.