Controversial opinion time. I feel sorry for Premier League referees.

They used to say you had to be mad to be a goalkeeper. That the position between the sticks was the most unforgiving in the sport.

In one minute, you’re a match-winning hero with a spectacular save. The next, you’re a villain after a costly, result-changing mistake.

But at least goalkeepers can call upon support from their managers, their team-mates and their clubs’ fans on a weekly basis regardless of their own plight.

The reception Loris Karius received when coming out at Anfield to feature in a pre-season friendly against Torino in 2018, just weeks after costing Liverpool in the Champions League final against Real Madrid is the most fitting proof of this.

But what of the officials that govern our game? In truth, they are the men in possession of the most poisoned of chalices.

On any matchday, a minimum of one from a maximum of 28 players will walk away the hero. Lauded for doing their job.

On every matchday, a referee is guaranteed to be abused as every decision he makes faces the utmost scrutiny.

It’s become worse in recent years and social media hasn’t helped.

We often hear from the old-guard footballers, forever grateful that their time came before the constant critic that is football social media.

Yet every fan has kicked a ball at one stage or another, dreaming of emulating their heroes on the greatest stage.

No-one grows up idolising a referee and longing to follow in their footsteps.

The worst case scenario for them after a matchday is, every man and his dog is cursing their name with every TV channel, newspaper and social media platform littered with negativity and demanding answers from the man in the middle.

But what good would that do them when they know the public are baying for blood?

Must-read Liverpool FC news

An admittance they got a decision wrong will only infuriate supporters. And any attempt to justify controversial decisions would be met by the same fate.

After all, only a few weeks ago Mike Dean withdraw from duty for a gameweek after his family received death threats after the Tranmere Rovers-supporting official issued two controversial red cards.

In the best-case scenario, officials walk away unnoticed at the end of 90 minutes, having had no controversial decision to govern but no-one there to give them a pat on the back for a job well done.

Yet that is now virtually impossible thanks to the dreaded introduction of VAR. Now everyone is a critic.

Technology was introduced with the purpose aiding officials, not destroying them. To provide a definitive answer when intervening in the clear and obvious rather than create further confusion.

In truth, English football’s use of VAR has been shambolic. The humanity has been removed from the game we all love, and with it the fun.

I don’t care if a forward is offside by a toenail or an armpit. Whatever happened to giving the forward the benefit of the doubt?

And where is the consistency?

From potential red cards to disallowed goals, from handballs to penalty decisions. We see the same controversial incidents occur on a weekly basis, all open to interpretation, yet with a different ruling administered on each occasion.

It’s no surprise the players and managers are so frustrated.

This weekend was the perfect example of the madness poisoning the beautiful game.

First we had Lee Mason disallowing a Lewis Dunk free-kick in a relegation six-pointer between Brighton & Hove Albion and West Bromwich Albion, before changing his mind only for VAR to intervene and disallow the goal all over again.

"I said to the referee: 'Can I take it?' He blew his whistle and I took it," Dunk told Sky Sports after the game. "Why doesn't he come and speak to the press like me? Never. They hide behind their bubble.

"I don't think he knew what he was doing. He gave the goal. Why did he give it? I don't know why VAR was getting involved."

Dunk, when asked if Mason had lost control of the game, added: "Yeah, he did. Fact."

Mason had been scheduled to serve as fourth official for Liverpool’s trip to Sheffield United but ended up withdrawing his services with a mystery injury after mass public backlash.

Come Sunday and it was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United who were left infuriated following their 0-0 draw with Chelsea, adamant they should have had a penalty for a handball by Callum Hudson-Odoi, only for Stuart Attwell to decide otherwise after consulting VAR.

Luke Shaw said in an interview with Sky Sports after the game that he had overheard Attwell admitting United should've had a penalty but that he didn't award it because he didn't want to cause controversy, however, the Red Devils have since backtracked on this suggestion and claimed the defender misheard the official.

But that didn’t stop Solskjaer voicing his angst at the decision in his own post-match press conference.

“Yep, 100% (we should have had a penalty). No (I don't understand why it wasn't given), not at all,” the Norwegian said. “Especially when they stop it and he walks across and can watch it.

Get all the latest Liverpool breaking news, team news, transfer rumours, injury updates plus analysis of what's next for the Reds.

You'll also get the latest transfer talk and analysis straight to your inbox every day with our FREE email newsletter.

Sign up here - it only takes a few seconds!

“From here you can see it's a handball but you're thinking it's our player that does it and they're shouting it's handball for our player. But then when you look at it on the video, it's taken two points away from us.

“It's all these outside influences, even VAR talk before the game on Harry. It's cheeky when they (Chelsea) put that on their website. That's influencing referees. They're putting pressure on the referees with penalties.

“I hear now that Manchester United had more penalties in two years than I had in five-and-a-half years,” the German said back in January after his side were denied a penalty against Southampton.

"I’ve no idea if that’s my fault, or how that can happen. But it’s no excuse for the performance. We cannot change it, we have to respect the decisions.

"If anybody ever again will say Sadio Mane is a 'diver', it's the biggest joke in the world. This boy tries to stay on his feet with all he has. In two situations… other teams will get a penalty for it, let me say it like this. Then the handball, I don't know who will explain that to me."

Of course, such situations are not unique to United with Liverpool themselves falling foul to both sides of the coin when it comes to penalties on frequent occasions.

Mane had also been denied a penalty against Newcastle the month before after seeing his leg clutched by goalkeeper Karl Darlow, while there was a mixed reaction to the Senegalese not going down against Sheffield United on Sunday following contact from Ethan Ampadu, with some sections praising honesty but others suggesting he should go down to win a penalty.

Damned if he does but damned if he doesn’t. Stay on your feet and the chances are any altercation will be overlooked. Go down and risk being accused of diving.

Reds team-mate Mohamed Salah knows about all too well.

The Egyptian is admittedly not shy of going to ground when he feels contact in the box, and the likes of Piers Morgan, Richard Keys and Simon Jordan are certainly not shy in churlishly lambasting him when he does so.

Sometimes he wins penalties, sometimes he doesn’t. That’s football and you just hope it balances out across a 38-game campaign.

As one of the best attackers in world football, of course he is going to be on the receiving end of his fair share of heavy-handed treatment.

But with such attention on every occasion the forward goes to ground, referees across the Premier League are going to be well-aware of the scrutiny that will follow regardless of the decision they make when it comes to a potential spot-kick.

If Salah stayed on his feet more, history shows a penalty is less likely to be awarded. So when he feels contact, he goes down to try and make sure the decision goes his way. Yes, sometimes theatrically.

This gets greeted with the diving accusations, the fact that players have to go to such lengths, yet that only welcomes increasing scrutiny for each further incident on both officials and footballers.

VAR was supposed to eradicate such issues but clearly that’s not happening and the enhanced anguish across the top-flight this week only proves.

The clear and obvious has become anything but.

Football is broken and Liverpool aren’t the only ones suffering.

But match officials aren't villains either, rather fellow casualties of the game's ineptitude.

Something has to change.