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Premier League Rule Changes for 2023/24: A Primer

Your handy guide to what to expect from officials next season.

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A general view of the board displaying 6 minutes of added time at the end of the second half in the SSE Airtricity Men’s Premier Division match between Bohemians and St Patrick’s Athletic at Dalymount Park in Dublin.
A general view of the board displaying 6 minutes of added time at the end of the second half in the SSE Airtricity Men’s Premier Division match between Bohemians and St Patrick’s Athletic at Dalymount Park in Dublin.
Photo By Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile via Getty Images

As always, there will be some changes in how matches are officiated next season, and this is a primer to help you not look foolish when something happens that would not have happened before.

What’s happening with added time?

If you’ve been watching international football recently, you’ll have noticed that added time to both halves has increased significantly. This is on purpose: the International Football Association Board (IFAB) has decided to clamp down on time-wasting by adding more time to the end of each half.

This has already come into play in domestic leagues, having been applied in the Championship, which has already commenced, and in the Community Shield match between Manchester City and winners Arsenal.

In practice, this means the loose standard of 30 seconds of stoppage time for goals and substitutions alongside any additional added for egregious time-wasting will be replaced by more “precise” amounts of time in these moments.

In terms of the actual rulebook, the main change is that goal celebrations have been added as a reason for added time — other than that this is merely a change in how the already-written rules are applied in practice.

While debates surround time-wasting itself, players and managers are mostly united against the added time for instances like celebrations and substitutions not intended to garner an advantage for a team. This pushback is due to the already hyper-inflated amount of minutes players at the top level are asked to play at present, with Raphael Varane’s strong tweet perhaps characteristic of the response.

What should you expect?

As in international competition, expect long stoppage times at the beginning of the season, and to see these numbers to decrease as players become accustomed to the new system (this is what we saw in Qatar, and expect to see in the Women’s World Cup).

Despite this pattern, the Premier League estimates that matches will be about 3-4 minutes longer than in previous years, which amounts to 20 more hours of football played in the EPL.

What does Jürgen Klopp think?

Well, in his Chelsea pre-match press conference the Liverpool head coach gave a long and measured response to the change, which is worth reproducing in full here:

It’s difficult to answer. I know where you’re [IFAB’s] coming from, we have a 90-minute game and in the end you have a net game time ball in play between 50 and 55 minutes and stuff like this. And everybody could ask, ‘Where is the ball the other time?’ There are obviously moments where the ball is out and that’s part of the game and that’s completely fine, but how much do we have to extend that in this moment? In the end, if we can get to 55 to 60 minutes ball in play, we will see, that doesn’t sound too difficult, I have to say.

When I speak about player welfare, I speak about in general we have too many competitions, we have too many games in general now. But having three or four minutes a game more ball in play, I can’t see it now it will make a massive difference. We will see. There will be a massive difference in the end if you have 10 minutes extra time; imagine that, 90 minutes played, it’s 0-0 or 1-0 down or whatever and then you see 10… that gives a boost, that will be intense, everybody will go for that. So that will be interesting to watch. I don’t know yet exactly how influential that will be. We will see that.

But I understand where they are coming from. I think time-wasting got too much in the last years but I think even more so the rhythm breaking was a massive, massive issue that came up in the last years that you thought, ‘Oh my God.’ You have two or three good situations and the ‘keeper stays down for two minutes and you think, ‘Hey, what does he have? Nothing?’ It’s difficult to judge in these moments obviously but that got more and more. From that point of view, I’m quite happy that we try to go for that. I thought it makes sense to give earlier yellow cards. You don’t want to have a yellow card for time-wasting, especially not after 15 minutes or whatever, so that’s clear you might not do it then.

I hope at the end we find a good solution together, that we don’t have 10 to 15 minutes extra time and yellow cards everywhere. We need to find a solution. But as a wake-up call - come on, we’re actually here to play football and not to let the time run down somehow in the moment when we have the result we want - I think from that point of view I rather think it’s good. But, again, more football is really difficult to take in because we are on the edge. There’s no doubt about it. I know football people and football fans are like, ‘Yeah, but they do this, they do that, they earn this and that.’ It has nothing to do with it. We are at the edge. We have to make sure in the future we have to sort that. Unfortunately, there are not as many discussions about it because that costs money and nobody is really happy to do that.

We will see how the next season goes in that department, it will be really interesting. I’m 100 per cent sure I stand out there and if we are 1-0 up and somebody tells me 12 minutes, I will not be over the moon. In the other way, I think, “OK, that’s nearly a half-time, let’s go.” We will see.

What about time-wasting, specifically?

Time-wasting, too, will be directly addressed outside of the added time phenomenon, with match officials “empowered” to act decisively toward players suspected of wasting time for strategic advantage.

In the opening weekend of the English Championship, eight players were cautioned for time-wasting across the 12 total fixtures, which is higher than would be expected.

Alongside increased cautions, more emphasis will be placed on players leaving the field of play after going down with injury, and more treatment will be given on the sidelines rather than on the field of play when appropriate.

Further, the league will continue with multiple balls, after increasing the eight balls situated on the sidelines to nine last season. This increase was intended to increase the speed of return to play by allowing the ball to get back into play sooner.

How is the punishment for dissent and other “unsavory” actions changing?

We can expect to see a return of one of the more popular — yet strangely abandoned quickly — changes: players who surround the referee to ask for punishments of their opponents can expect disciplinary action

Players of Manchester United surround referee Craig Pawson to protest after he disallowed a goal scored by Cristiano Ronaldo during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Newcastle United at Old Trafford on October 16, 2022 in Manchester, United Kingdom.
Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

This likely won’t affect Liverpool as much, because the Reds have, if anything, been a team who avoid these situations on the pitch.

What very well could affect Liverpool is how this approach will affect the touch-line: disciplinary action will also be more strictly applied to coaches and managers who charge off the technical areas in similar situations, as this is thought to “bring the game into disrepute.”

On multiple occasions in the recent past, Jürgen Klopp has been on the end of fines and disciplinary action for heated moments on the touchline; given this will become stricter this season, the Liverpool head coach will likely have to make some changes to his approach.

Per The Athletic, the specific wording for these conduct changes are as follows:

Referees now have stricter guidelines for punishing those who cross the line. Players can be booked for confronting an official, showing disrespect and invading the referee’s personal space. Two or more players confronting an official will also bring bookings and a report to the FA.

Managers and coaching staff have also been reminded of their responsibilities, with an emphasis placed on them remaining in their technical area. Managers are not permitted to enter the pitch either at half-time or full-time to confront an official.

Any other small changes?

Yes; in terms of fouls that result in a penalty kick being awarded, there has been a slight change in how yellow cards are awarded. The language is as follows, from IFAB:

Clarification that if the referee awards a penalty kick for an offense which involved a defending team player challenging an opponent for the ball (excluding holding, pulling, pushing, no possibility to play the ball etc.), the same sanction should be issued to the player as for an attempt to play the ball, i.e. if the offense stops or interferes with a promising attack – no caution (no yellow card); DOGSO offense – caution (yellow card).

Basically, unless the offense was a professional/cynical foul or a denial of a goal-scoring opportunity, do not expect to see a yellow card.

Further, even more restrictions have been placed on goalkeepers for penalties:

Clarification that the goalkeeper must not behave in a manner that fails to show respect for the game and the opponent, i.e. by unfairly distracting the kicker.

This follows the recent pattern of pushing penalties — which, before recent changes, already represented about a 70% chance of scoring for the taker — even more in favor of the taker, and harder for goalkeepers. It’s unclear what the impetus for this recent shift has been, given that no changes have taken place in terms of restricting penalties themselves.

All teams, managers, and players have been warned of these changes in the very meetings that Varane’s tweet above referenced; as such, expect any feigned surprise on the opening weekend to be just that: we’re all on the same page here.

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