By Tony Attwood
There is not too much being written about the differences between last season and the 2019/20 campaign – but there really are a number of interesting twists which are, I suspect, going to take a few players, and commentators, by surprise.
There are changes to the rules on free kicks, substitutions, goal kicks, penalties… well the list goes on, and then on some more. So I’ll try and pick out a few of the more exciting new rules.
1: Stop the pushing and shoving around the defensive wall
We have often seen a fair old bit of pushing and shoving going on when a defensive wall is formed to protect the goal from a free kick in a goal scoring position. The wall takes up its position, and the attacking side’s players try to disrupt the wall, taking up positions in front of the wall, and trying to barge their way into the wall.
The new rule says that if there is a wall of three or more players, no attacking player is allowed within one metre of the wall.
So what will teams do to overcome this when attacking? One option will be to have a line of players standing on either side of the wall and maybe two paces back. As the free kick expert runs up to take the kick these players run with him but on either side of the wall, heading into centre of the area, with the aim of putting the keeper off. (It is rather disconcerting to have the ball coming at you and players running in fromt both sides.)
It will take practice but if the players can get level with the kicker as he kicks, but be moving at full speed they will have an advantage with the wall-based players facing the other way.
The alternative is to abandon the idea of having a shot from the free kick, and instead lob the ball upwards, again with several attacking players running in underneath it.
This could then mean that the players of the defending side will abandon the idea of the long wall – but then that will allow the attackers back into their position in front of the ball.
2: A change to the meaning of “in play”
“In play” is an important issue because it defines when the normal rules of football apply, and the “in play” rule is changing this season for goal kicks. When a goal kick is taken the ball is in play from that very moment – meaning that a keeper can kick the ball a few feet to a defender if the team likes to play out from the back. The ball doesn’t have to leave the area.
Of course the keeper and defender don’t then have it all their own way as attackers can rush forward the moment the ball is kicked – and the keeper can’t pick the ball up if the defender gives it back to him.
This could slow the game down – if a team wants to waste time, or speed it up, as it will allow a faster deliver of the ball up the pitch. Attackers after all won’t know who to mark if there are several defenders hanging around in the area waiting for the ball. And if a number press forward, then the keeper could still thump the ball up the pitch.
The idea of subs having to leave the pitch near the tunnel came about after a notorious Manchester United player left the pitch at the nearest point, was abused by a Crystal Palace fan, and then attacked the Palace fan. The problem is that clubs have exploited the knowledge that players have to walk across the pitch, by indicating to players that they should waste time by going and standing on the far side – often close to the corner flag.
The thinking is that this time wasting is constant, and with Cantona now retired there is far less danger of a player attacking a fan on his walk around the ground.
But of course this now opens the way for home fans to abuse away players when they are substituted. Maybe home teams should be forced to provide escorts. Or perhaps there should be entry points to underground exits, every five yards or so around the pitch.
4: No hanky panky over penalties
Goalkeeper tactics such as the waving of the arms, pulling the crossbar, jumping up and down, kicking the posts and the like is now off limits. The new rule is the keeper takes up his position and stands still. The keeper is also not allowed to stand behind the goal line but must stand on it, meaning the boots have to be touching it.
5: No dropped balls
In a situation which would have led to a drop ball in the past, now the last side to touch the ball passes it back to the opposition. If however the game is stopped in the penalty area, the goalkeeper restarts the game no matter what the situation.
However if play is stopped with the ball in the penalty area, other than for a foul or offside, it will restart with the goalkeeper no matter which team had possession.
6: Handballs – no excuse.
A ball hitting the hand of an attacking player is always handball irrespective of whether it was accidental.
So no accidental claims. And with VAR that should make it easier to see what’s what.
7: Excessive celebrations can be booked.
This appears to be an attempt to regulate the arrival of VAR and stop players celebrating a lot while VAR is doing its thing.
8: Changing the table
Where teams are tied in the league on points, goal difference, goals scored and goals against (the four ways of separating clubs at the moment) then as happens in some leagues already, the games between the two teams will be taken into account.
This can mean quite a lot in terms of prize money for position in the league, but more importantly, it could be used to decide which team is in which competition in Europe.
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