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Premier League Rule Changes for the 2022-23 Season, Explained

Part of an ongoing effort to help you not sound daft at the pub.

Liverpool’s English midfielder Jordan Henderson (R) complains to referee after Liverpool’s Senegalese striker Sadio Mane’s goal was cancelled due to an offside position during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Wolverhampton Wanderers at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on May 22, 2022
Liverpool’s English midfielder Jordan Henderson (R) complains to referee after Liverpool’s Senegalese striker Sadio Mane’s goal was cancelled due to an offside position during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Wolverhampton Wanderers at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on May 22, 2022
Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images

Say it quietly, but the only real change going into this season reflects a common sense change. Naturally, we shall see if it plays out that way, but here's a primer on the main change for the 2022/23 season and a note on the substitution rule, followed by a short overview of the other, largely cosmetic changes. I'll end with a note on the unchanged hand-ball rule, because, well, always relevant init.

Here we go...

Main Change: Clarifying "Deliberate Play" for Offside Rulings

Affects: All Leagues

Crucial for: Offside decisions where an opponent touching the ball affects the decision

Explanation: Over the past season, we've seen a gray area around goals called onside due to an opponent "deliberately playing the ball," which resets the offside phase (in other words, an opponent stood in an offside position is onside if the ball is not played by their team but is rather played by the opposition). The change this year is not a change in the rule, but rather an attempt to clarify the language.

The law itself still stands (a player is onside if an opponent deliberately plays the ball), but the guidelines for what constitutes “deliberate play” in accordance with the spirit of the game has been clarified, narrowing this category.

Play is deliberate if:

(1) The ball travelled from a distance and the player had a clear view of it (and presumably time to position themselves and make the decision to play it);

(2) The ball was not moving quickly (presumably aimed to cut out desperate or reflex attempts to play the ball);

(3) The direction of the ball was not unexpected (presumably aiming to solve bad touches that come from unexpected ricochets and contact that is not what a player intends); and

(4) The player had time to coordinate their body movement, i.e. it was not a case of instinctive stretching or jumping, or a movement that achieved limited contact/control (seems to cover some of these other categories, but broadly looks to limit the type of reach that allowed Mbappe to score in the Euros).

The guidance also notes that it’s understood that the ball is easier to play on the ground than in the air (which xG sickos are already aware of).

What does this all mean? Basically, this is an attempt to narrow what counts as deliberate play in line with the perceived "spirit of the game." In practice, this should mean that things a player means to do (passing the ball back without realizing a player is there to pounce on it; mis-playing a ball through personal error rather than through difficulty of the ball's path of travel; etc.) are the only things that would trigger a goal by an offside player standing . If it works, players will be punished for poor judgment, but not for, say, errant deflections, or the result of challenges/blocks that are not intended to play the ball in a certain area.

Per Dale Johnson of ESPN (and VAR-analysis fame), it's a lot of words for a good clarification: “It means that a only a controlled play of the ball, such as a misplaced pass, will now reset the offside phase.”

Video examples are available here for visual learners.

Verdict: It makes sense! I agree with it! We shall see if it does what we can clearly read it as meaning to do, however…

Changes in Substitutions

Affects: Premier League

Crucial for: Managing games and player fitness

Explanation: Teams will be allowed five (5) substitutions in Premier League matches for the 2022/23 season, to be made on three (3) possible in-game occasions and during the half-time break. In other words, you can now bring on five players, but you cannot stop the game for subs any more often than previously. Teams can now name nine (9) players on the bench.

As far as I know, this does not affect the concussion substitution rule.

Verdict: The likes of Jürgen Klopp and others have been fighting for this since 2020, and it's good for us. The bigger teams with better benches certainly benefit, but they also benefit from having stronger starting line-ups and stronger three-subs anyway, so I don't find this argument against five subs to be more compelling than player welfare and minutes-management — especially in a grueling World Cup year that asks a lot of players. (Karen Brady eat your heart out.)

The impact of players off the bench in the Community Shield underscores why this can be a good thing for us, specifically, since we're spoiled for choice.

Cosmetic Changes

GK Positioning on Penalties: They've made it clearer that keepers need to have a foot on or behind the line when a kick is taken to avoid keepers from being penalized due to vague wording. No effect for us.

Non-violent Sending Offs: They've changed the wording around cautions and sending offs to now say that “inappropriate behavior (e.g. offensively touching another person) is to be considered “offensive, insulting, or abusive” and thus warranting a sending off, with “action(s)” replacing “gesture(s)” in the wording.

Effect of this one is unclear, as it's a small change. It could lead to no real difference, or it could widen the parameters around the likes of “hands to face” issues, leading to more sending offs if this contact is purposeful even if it’s not “violent.” If the latter, we might not experience the effects, since our most flagrant exploiter of the “not quite violent contact,” Sadio Mané, has sadly departed to Bayern Munich.

Doubt it'll matter, but keep this in mind if we happen to see someone sent off for contact that looks very similar to some in previous seasons that did not lead to a sending off — yes, I'm imagining some social media side-by-side outrage stills here.

You can get a free kick if someone spits or bites any member of the teams' lists or match officials now. Yeah, sound.

Matches will only be postponed (on a case-by-case basis) for "truly exceptional" circumstances and given that “the club concerned have taken all reasonable steps to avoid the necessity of making the application.” Probably we'll see no change, but the "reasonable steps" is interesting and thus notable. What happens if there's a COVID outbreak amongst unvaccinated players, or after a publicized large gathering? That wording makes it worth considering here, though given the general toothlessness of the League I doubt there will be fireworks.

They advertised a change in stoppage time allocation, but it seems like a tease. The actual change is the addition of "playing" ahead of "time" in the phrase “Allowance is made by the referee in each half for all playing time lost in that half…” which frankly makes me wonder what they were adding it for before.

Just give actual stoppage time to punish time-wasting, I beg.

Finally, a brief handball refresher:

No changes this year! Finally! Honestly, I think the handball rule has (say it quietly) functioned quite well of late, and it seems to me to be applying the spirit of "you have hands, and unavoidable contact doesn't need to be an offense/pen."

Against popular belief (looking at you, pundits), the recent handball rule changes have progressively narrowed what constitutes an unintentional handball offense — so take none of the "that wouldn't be a handball five years ago" chatter. I promise it would have been, Ian, it really, really would have been.

So, quick refresher:

  1. Deliberate handballs (imagine Fernandinho's little face as he handled the ball on the goal line to hand us the league vs. Chelsea in 2019/20) are still and have always been an offense.
  2. Incidental contact (more on this below) is only an offense if it's done by the player who scores the goal. In other words, you can't score with your hands, you can't control the ball with your hand and then score, etc. but you can have incidental contact with your hand and assist a goal, start a counter-attack, etc.
  3. The area of the arm that can commit a handball offense is from the bottom of the armpit and in a ring around from there — this is what we commonly refer to as the shirtsleeve because it's the area often outside where the shirtsleeve ends. Does this mean that longer sleeves are a benefit? Possibly.

So, to sum up:

Not every contact between ball to hand is considered a handball, and the changes in wording over the past few seasons serve to limit unintentional handballs through unavoidable or incidental contact.

Effectively, look for a handball if the positioning of a player’s arm/hand makes you think they’re “taking a risk” in their arm positioning, and that they’re making their body mass “unnaturally bigger.”

If the position is “explainable” by the movement a player is making, this won’t be a handball.

"But City fans argue that Rúben Dias’s arm being extended in the Community Shield is explainable by the force he needs to jump!" you might say. This is true, but the extension from the body was extreme enough to make him “unnaturally bigger,” and the extent of his reach certainly fits in the “taking a risk” category. He uses it to jump, yes, but he also lets it hang there rather than retracting it (common practice), and you see plenty of players jumping with hands withdrawn.

While I sympathize with City fans’ complaints that the position was “explainable,” I don’t think we want to see shots on goal blocked by extended arms. This one falls under the "if it happened against you, you'd be incensed if it wasn't given" — which I find to be a good way to evaluate if you're being honest with yourself about your rule-related beliefs.

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