© Michael Regan

Football

The most important rule changes for the new Premier League season

The 2019/2020 Premier League season is fast approaching and there have been various developments to the laws of the English game since the last campaign ended in May...

As the Premier League returns, with the 2019-2020 season kicking off on 9 August, fans the country over will soon be climbing the terraces and tuning into the action once more. And while the main difference from the last outing is the arrival of three newly promoted teams – Norwich City, Sheffield United and Aston Villa – there have been various amendments (some subtle, others drastic) to the officials’ rulebook that will undoubtedly impact the football on display.

So, from managers going in the book to the arrival of the divisive video assistant referee, here is a breakdown of the most important rules changes and what they mean...

1. Drop balls

A dropped ball is now given to a single player from the team that touched it last.

To be perfectly honest, I can’t remember a single instance of a dropped ball in the entirety of last season, as the rule seems to be prevalent only in school playgrounds and when I used to play football with my brother in our living room in the mid-Nineties. The new law, however, simplifies things as much as it saves the tibias of the multimillionaires gracing the Premier League’s fields. Instead of a scrap that resembles a centuries-old shin-kicking competition, now a single player will be given the ball to restart the game and all others will have to remain at least four metres away. It will then, presumably, be carefully passed back to the opposition in a polite showing of goodwill. Nevertheless, I’m confident that the subtle art of two players wildly swinging their legs at a rapidly descending ball will live on in Sunday leagues up and down the country.

2. Substitutions

Players have to leave the pitch at the nearest point to them.

In an effort to prevent the near-universal time-wasting that is done during a substitution, players will no longer half-heartedly jog towards the halfway line while being pestered by the official to hurry up. On first glance this is both understandable and welcomed. However, it seems to open up a number of new, potentially hazardous scenarios and could suit certain larger stadiums much more than other, smaller grounds. For players exiting the field of play behind the goal, for example, they will inevitably be closer to fans as they potter around the field back to the dugout. In grounds in which the distance is minimal, this presents new opportunities for rival supporters to hurl abuse at a relatively isolated individual. Whether stewards will be taking this into account is yet to be seen. One thing is certain, though, and that is that we will miss the double high five players routinely engage in as they swap positions almost as much as the occasional slap on the backside from an animated manager. Still, for the first few weeks at least, we won’t be surprised to see a few players feign ignorance and try to walk from one side of the pitch to the other while wearing a mischievous grin.

© Chris Radburn

3. Cards for coaches

Managers can now be shown yellow and red cards for misconduct.

Just picture it: a red-faced Sean Dyche, on the verge of a second booking due to his incessant dissent, calling over defender Phil Bardsley before calmly telling him, without a hint of irony, not to get sent off… This will undoubtedly happen at many stages of the season, for various managers, and it’s a long time coming. Too often referees have been reluctant to send mouthy or aggressive coaches to the stands and it always seemed as if the latter were unsure of exactly where they were suppose to go. Employing the same disciplinary system is a no-brainer and last year it was trialled in the English Football League to great effect. Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing which managers top the table for most cautions and dismissals at the end of the season and I have no doubt that punters from Newcastle to Southampton will be placing bets on whether the likes of Nuno Espírito Santo, Marco Silva or the aforementioned Dyche see red.

4. Goal kicks

The ball is in play from a goal kick from the moment it is kicked.

Previously, players could only collect a pass from a goal kick once it had left the penalty area. Now, however, as soon as it is kicked, defenders can receive the ball and begin their build-up play. Although this may sound academic, during preseason fixtures it has already proved to change how teams both play out from the back and, in turn, press the ball at a restart. For sides such as Manchester City and Liverpool, it enables their goalkeepers to get the ball moving much quicker and prevents their centre-backs from hugging the edges of the box. It will be fascinating to see how teams counteract such a development, as defending sides will still have to remain outside the penalty area. Goalkeepers will therefore have a lot more options and be able to spring counter-attacks almost immediately. I’m sure Pep Guardiola is licking his lips at the idea of never kicking the ball long again…

5. Defensive walls

When a team has three or more players in a wall, the opposition are not allowed within one yard of it.

For a number of years now, I, for one, have been sick and tired of the constant argy-bargy that dominated every free-kick, no matter where it took place on the pitch. Apart from the very rare occasion when attacking players would block the keeper’s line of sight before departing in unison right as the ball was struck, this facet of the game served merely to waste time and to allow for a few toes to be stood on. Much like the introduction of the referees' foam spray, this new law will prevent the wall from being moved closer towards the ball and make a goal direct from a free-kick all that more special. For keepers, they will also lose the ability to blame a goal on a gap or hole in a wall caused by the usual ruckus – expect a lot more criticism for number ones when they do concede from a dead-ball situation.

© Martin Rickett

6. Penalties

Keepers need to have at least part of one foot on the goal line or, if jumping, one foot in line with the goal line when a penalty is taken.

For years now, this has been a law that has seemingly be Tipp-Exed out of the referees’ rulebook. Countless penalty saves have been the result of the keeper encroaching the taker, closing down the distance between spot kick and goal. Penalties will now also not be taken until the keeper has stopped touching the posts or crossbar or even if the frame of the goal is moving after said disruption. This could see a reduction in the type of antics Joe Hart used to employ frequently and to great effect. But, ultimately, this development will give officials more power to spot violations that would otherwise have a significant impact on the final score. Instead of relying on a linesman, who is positioned as far away as the corner flag, to look out for such an infringement, this new rule will most likely be policed by one of the most contentious updates to the modern game: VAR.

7. VAR

The new Premier League season will be the first to feature video technology after its use was approved by top-flight clubs in November.

Whether you love it or hate it, the video assistant referee is the newest addition to the Premier League this season. Trialled in the Champions League and FA Cup last year, its impact on the flow of the game and ultimate scoreline was felt by many. To be clear, VAR will only be used for “clear and obvious errors” or “serious missed incidents” in the following four circumstances: goals, penalty decisions, direct red card incidents and cases of mistaken identity (a few years too late for a certain Kieran Gibbs). It will, however, be one of the most significant changes to the modern English game. For one thing, we will all have to get used to players and coaches drawing a square in the air as if they have all suddenly broken out into a collective game of Charades. But it will, in certain scenarios, remove any case for post-match moaning and give the officials another, much-needed, layer of insurance. The Premier League have also confirmed that VAR related incidents will be shown on screens in the stadiums and be explained over PA systems, so fans won't be left in the dark. But, the old saying, “What goes around comes around in football” will likely remain, as judging from the Lionesses’ experience of VAR in the Women’s World Cup final – they were awarded a penalty after a video review but also had a goal belatedly disallowed for offside – the phrase, “VAR giveth and VAR taketh away” is probably better suited.

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