It’s Premierleaguemas Eve, so here’s a rundown of 12 little changes that are coming to the top flight this season.
1. An extended World Cup winter break
The big one. The disruptor.
There have been many theories on the effect that a winter World Cup will have on the Premier League this season, and it’s certainly reasonable to say that the answer to the question of who will benefit the most from it all is very much open.
We might expect smaller clubs with fewer players being called up to benefit from a lengthy break, but it’s also worth remembering that great players can come from countries that don’t routinely qualify for these tournaments. Neither Mo Salah nor Erling Haaland will be at the finals because Egypt and Norway didn’t qualify.
And it’s also worth considering that players returning from the tournament under a cloud – hello England! – may find their form affected after it’s done.
The last round of Premier League fixtures to be played before everybody breaks up is on November 13, by which time 16 rounds of matches will have been played.
Everybody’s due to be back on Boxing Day, though it should also be added that clubs have been promised a gap of a minimum of 48 hours between games. Clubs also have permission to play friendlies while the World Cup is on, so long as matches aren’t scheduled to conflict with matches being played in the World Cup. Lower league and non-league football will be continuing throughout.
2. No more taking the knee before matches
The decision has been taken that players will stop taking the knee in protest against racism before the start of matches. This has been happening since the start of the 2020/21 season following global anger at police involvement in the death of George Floyd, but there has been a growing feeling that the symbolism of the gesture had been waning in recent months.
Kick It Out, the anti-discrimination organisation, has already confirmed that during the 2021/22 season there had been a 41% rise in discriminatory incidents reported in grassroots football compared to the last full season of games before the pandemic.
It would take a remarkable level of myopia to believe that taking the knee ‘solved’ anything (as if this were even possible), and the players’ union, the PFA, confirmed that players are still determined to use their platform and voice to draw attention to racial injustice and discrimination, but it is not known what form this will take.
3. An increase in the scope of Football Banning Orders
It was inevitable that there would be a response to the perception of a growth in disorder since crowds were allowed back at the end of the lockdowns, and this came in a legislative sense this summer with an extension to the scope of football banning orders to encompass behaviours which are considered to be disorderly.
The FA have launched a ‘Love Football – Protect the Game’ campaign to try and encourage better behaviour. At the risk of sounding cynical, the chance of this actually making a difference to any individual is surely practically zero. But it’s the changes to the law which may make more of a difference.
Pitch invaders, fans taking cocaine, those throwing objects, those carrying pyrotechnics such as smoke bombs and those using discriminatory language now all fall under the umbrella of being ‘football-related’ offences and will now carry football banning orders, which ban those under them from all grounds, bar them from using public transport on match days and from visiting other potential trouble spots before and following matches, and make them surrender their passport to the police during ‘control periods’ surrounding international tournaments.
These bans could also be extended to the parents or guardians of children who take part in the anti-social behaviour.
4. Five substitutes rather than three
It was said at the time when five substitutes were first introduced, ostensibly for reasons related to the pandemic, that the increase in the number of substitutes per match would never only be a temporary measure, and now here we are.
Clubs were first permitted to do so when football returned after its Covid-enforced break during the 2019/20 season, but while IFAB (the body who set the laws of the game) recommended that this became permanent and the other ‘Big Five’ leagues and UEFA competitions did so, the Premier League was somewhat more reticent.
They stuck with three substitutions until the end of last season, amid concerns that allowing more substitutions would further distort competition in a league already bent out of shape by financial inequality. But at the end of last season the Premier League finally voted to increase this number to five, although managers will only be able to stop play three times – the same number as before.
Additional concussion substitutions will also still be allowed as part of the ongoing trial towards making them permanent, and clubs will be able to name nine substitutes per game, as they were last season.
5. A small change to offside
Rejoice! Rejoice! For the first time since our ancestors evolved hands in the first place, there will be no changes to the offside rules this season, and no changes are being made to VAR either. But the same can’t quite be said for offside.
In recent times, a grey area has grown concerning goals being called onside due to an opponent ‘deliberately’ playing the ball, which resets the offside phase.
The change this year is not a change in the rule, but rather an attempt to clarify the language used when discussing these decisions. Guidelines over what constitutes ‘deliberate play’ have been altered, narrowing the definitions to ensure that players will no longer be considered onside over accidental deflections. They should now only be considered onside over what might be considered ‘errors of judgement’ such as misplaced passes.
6. Goalkeepers’ feet on the line for penalty kicks
A relatively minor change, this, but a change nevertheless. In 2019, a rule change stipulated that goalkeepers must have at least one foot on the goal line when facing a penalty kick, but IFAB have now amended this rule to read that goalkeepers will now be allowed to have one foot behind the goal line at the point of contact of a penalty kick, meaning they can now start from a deeper position to build up momentum to help them make a save. Expect greater calf muscle training for goalkeepers across the Premier League.
7. Non-‘violent’ sendings off
The wording surrounding cautions and sendings off has also been amended slightly to broaden its net on what may be considered a sending-off offence.
‘Inappropriate behaviour’ will now be considered ‘offensive, insulting, or abusive’ and will warrant a sending off, with ‘action(s)’ replacing ‘gesture(s)’ in the wording.
8. No further stoppages for medical emergencies in the crowd
Since the collapse of Christian Eriksen during a Euro 2020 match in Copenhagen, cardiac issues and the wellbeing of people inside football grounds has become an issue like never before.
Over the last couple of years, it has become increasingly commonplace for play to stop due to medical emergencies in the crowd, particularly with players being notified of incidents and requesting that play be halted.
Obviously, this isn’t a blanket rule and there may be circumstances under which play would be stopped because of something going on in the crowd, but players have now been reminded that they should not halt a game, and that medical emergencies aren’t the responsibility of the team staff.
Premier League clubs have a doctor on call for all matches, and it has been reckoned that this sort of emergency can be dealt with (as, some might add, they were for many, many years) without the need to stop play altogether.
9. Changes to the refereeing panel
There were silent vigils the length and breadth of the nation at the end of last season, when it was confirmed that some of the Premier League’s most experienced referees were calling it a day. Mike Dean, Martin Atkinson, Jon Moss and Kevin Friend have all moved on to more administrative positions within PGMOL, with Dean going into the VAR arena, which definitely will not provoke any comment all season.
But there is one new referee coming into the Premier League this season: 32-year old Tom Bramall. And this is because four new referees were added at the start of last season.
Don’t panic. We’re not headed into Budweiser added-time multi-ball territory here. Not yet, anyway. But there will a change to how match balls are delivered to players this season to cut down on time-wasting and other unnecessary stoppages to play.
Ten balls will be dotted around the pitch during matches now: one ball in play, one with the fourth official, and eight placed at various points around the pitch on cones, two of which will be behind each goal, with two along each side of the pitch. This should ensure that play can continue more quickly if the ball is put into touch.
And while we’re on the subject of balls, as it’s the 30th anniversary of the formation of the Premier League this season, official suppliers Nike have gone back to the future with their design for this season’s official match ball, with a design that calls to mind the Mitre match balls used in the league during the 1990s.
It is worth remembering that although the Premier League had an official match ball from its inception, using it wasn’t made compulsory until 2000, when Mitre were replaced by Nike and the release of a new match ball became an annual
cash grab event).
11. The next generation
There’s a small change to the Premier League 2 this season, with the league changing from being for under-23s to under-21s. This change was introduced because the average age of player in this league is just 19 years old and, if anything, is something of a reversion to the Under-21 Premier League that was in place prior to 2016/17.
The rules on over-age players – each team can field a goalkeeper over the age limit and up to five over-age outfield players per match – will not be changing.
12. Safe standing
And finally, some good news for fans themselves. Fans were last allowed to stand at Premier League or Championship matches during the 1993/94 season, at the end of which the grace period allowed for clubs to upgrade their grounds to being all-seater expired.
The campaign for safe standing has been ongoing since then, but following a successful trial at five clubs – Cardiff City, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur – throughout the second half of last season, three further clubs – QPR, Brentford and Wolves – will be offering the same. More are expected to join soon.
Under licensed safe standing, fans are allowed to stand for matches in allocated spaces behind a barrier or a rail, in areas of persistent standing. Each supporter has to occupy the same area they would take if they were sitting, and with a traceable, numbered ticket. Seats cannot be locked in the up or down position, so fans can can sit if they wish to, and the standing areas cannot affect the views of other fans.
Other parts of the grounds remain all-seated and fans are expected to sit in these areas.
The successful trial means that more clubs are expected to add safe standing areas throughout the current season, though space restrictions and current ground designs may limit the number of clubs who are able to offer them, and the number of tickets available will be very limited.
UEFA – whose ban on standing meant empty terraces behind the goal at the Manchester City Academy Stadium and Leigh Sports Village during Euro 22 – also recently announced a safe standing trial to be held throughout this season in England, Germany and France.