From an offside tweak to five substitutes and a re-introduced multiball system, the Premier League will have a number of new features for the 2022-23 season. Here's what to look out for when the campaign kicks off on Friday as Arsenal make the short trip to Crystal Palace.
A season broken up by the World Cup
There are 16 rounds of games crammed in before players jet off for the World Cup in Qatar after Sunday, Nov. 13. Teams are back in Premier League action on Monday, Dec. 26 -- just eight days after the World Cup final on Sunday, Dec. 18.
But that doesn't tell the whole story. The Carabao Cup quarterfinals are due to take place on Tuesday, Dec. 20 and Wednesday, Dec. 21. Football really won't stop this season. Oh, and guess what? Clubs have permission to play friendlies while the World Cup is on -- as long as scheduling doesn't conflict with the tournament.
At least there is only one usual international break, at the end of September when the UEFA Nations League group stage completes, and only club football will be played in October.
More rest for teams in a packed schedule
Premier League managers have always complained about the amount of time their stars get off, and changes have been made to help with player welfare. Clubs that are away in the Champions League on a Wednesday evening will not be selected for television coverage in the 12.30 p.m. U.K. slot on a Saturday. If they already have been and there is a clash when the UCL fixtures come out, their Premier League game will be switched to the Saturday night.
Also, no club will now be expected to play twice in a 48-hour period during the packed Christmas schedule. This often caused annoyance with some clubs getting far more rest over the festive period than others. So while the Christmas fixtures are set as Dec. 26, Dec. 31 and Jan. 2, in reality the games will be spread right across that period and into the first week of January to optimise rest.
Multiball system to cut down on time-wasting
Time-wasting on goal-kicks, free kicks and throw-ins seems to be an increasing problem, and last season the ball was in play for an average of 55.07 minutes across Premier League games.
In an attempt to improve that, the multiball system (as used after the COVID-19 restart when games were behind closed doors) will be re-introduced across all matches. Ten match balls will be used -- one on the pitch, one with the fourth official and eight positioned upon cones around the perimeter of the pitch alongside a ball assistant.
It should mean the ball is returned into play more quickly, while referees have been instructed to make sure there is limited delay to a restart and issue yellow cards if necessary. If the ball assistants are abusing it in favour of the home team, the referee has the authority to scrap it and return to the one-ball system.
Teams can now use five substitutes
Next is another throw-back to the COVID-19 restart, for the Premier League at least, with clubs now able to use a maximum of five substitutions in a game -- falling into line with the rest of the Big Five leagues and UEFA competitions.
English football adopted five substitutes at the end of the 2019-20 season, played in June and July, when the IFAB, football's lawmaker, introduced it as a temporary measure. This remained in place for the next two seasons, but Premier League clubs repeatedly voted against keeping it. But earlier this year, after the IFAB made it a permanent law change, English football finally relented and voted in five subs.
Concussion subs remain in place for this season as part of a trial period.
🗣️: "The Premier League has to save their top class players as well."— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) March 7, 2022
Jurgen Klopp has repeated his call for Premier League clubs to be able to use five substitutes, amid Liverpool's busy fixture schedule. pic.twitter.com/MeCYXtvaaX
The subtle change to offside
It's the law change that the IFAB insists isn't a law change. Remember Kylian Mbappe's controversial winning goal in the final of last year's UEFA Nations League? The France striker was in an offside position when Spain's Eric Garcia tried to intercept a pass, but he only got slight touch on the ball and Mbappe ran through to score. The goal counted because Garcia was deemed to have "deliberately played" the ball. After the game, UEFA's head of refereeing called for a reworking of the law to stop such goals from counting.
Then there's the penalty Harry Kane won and scored for England in Germany in June. He was offside when Jack Grealish attempted to thread a ball through to Raheem Sterling, but defender Lukas Klostermann deflected it through to Kane, who was brought down.
The IFAB says both should be ruled offside. So last month, the IFAB clarified the guidelines for such offside situations while also saying nothing has changed, even though the law was clearly applied in a different way across all major leagues and competitions.
The result is we should no longer see examples such as Mbappe and Kane when a defender is stretching, out of control of his actions, to make an interception. Don't expect the controversy to end entirely, however, as the new guidelines still leave plenty of room for interpretation.
For once, there are no other law changes of note for the new season.
Has anything changed with VAR?
There's nothing of real note. Contrary to initial reports, there are no immediate plans for fans to be able to hear the VAR audio, but it's something we may see later into the season.
The same high threshold will be applied, which makes it unlikely we'll see a referee change their mind when they visit the monitor. If the bar for an intervention is so high, the logic is that it should be a certain overturn, though there are obvious flaws in this, as it relies on a VAR not making a mistake.
Assistants have also been told to only delay the offside flag if it's a very obvious attacking situation (so the ball should not be going out to the wing) and a tight call. It's a difficult one to judge, though, as assistants don't want to be shown to have stopped an attacking move incorrectly.
The protocol for a penalty review is unchanged and aims to limit so-called soft penalties with minimal contact or exaggerated falls:
What is the degree of contact?
Is there a consequence of that contact?
What were the actions of the defender?
What were the motives of the attacker?
There's also an increased focus on holding within the penalty area, though getting consistency on what is deemed "normal football contact" isn't easy. If there's sustained holding that prevents an opponent from challenging for the ball, or the only motivation of the defender is to hold back the opponent with no interest in getting to the ball themselves, a penalty may be awarded.
All change for referees
Some of the Premier League's most experienced referees, all in their 50s with a combined 63 years of top-flight experience, hung up their whistles in the summer. Mike Dean is now a full-time VAR, while Martin Atkinson, Jon Moss and Kevin Friend have moved into management positions in PGMOL, the referees' body.
Between them, the four took charge of 95 Premier League games last season -- a quarter of all games. It's quite the hole to fill, and PGMOL now turns to youth to refresh its roster.
Tom Bramall, 32, is the only new referee after being promoted from the Championship, and that's because last summer, four other officials in their 30s -- John Brooks, Jarred Gillett, Tony Harrington and Michael Salisbury -- had been brought into the fold.
That said, Gillett, a former FIFA referee originally from Australia, took charge of only nine games in 2021-22, with the other three officiating just 10 between them, mostly toward the end of the campaign. Last season was used as an educational process, especially for the three referees who had not previously worked with VAR, ahead of taking a more central role.
Games will no longer stop for medical issues in the crowd
Every ground has always had an doctor on-site to attend any incidents away from the pitch, such as a supporter being taken ill, and until recently they would fulfil this duty without most people knowing anything had happened.
However, in the past couple of years matches, have been stopped, with players beckoning over club physios and medical staff to help attend to a fan. It's caused lengthy delays to some games as backroom staff are taken away from the game, which shouldn't be necessary with a stadium doctor in attendance. All players have now been told they should not halt a game, and medical emergencies aren't the responsibility of the team staff.