Big Premier League rule changes introduced as refs seek to avoid VAR and penalty mistakes

Premier League 2021/21 fixtures: The first six matchdays

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Strikers will no longer be able to “win penalties” by tripping over trailing legs as referee chief Mike Riley vows to give fans their old game back. At the same time, the narrow “toenail” and “armpit” offside decisions will be a thing of the past, with VAR ditching the pixel-perfect cross-hair lines in favour of the broader margins used at Euro 2020.

He is currently on a tour of the country speaking to clubs about the tweaks the Premier League officials have made to the laws.

And the overriding message is that football will become more of a contact sport again.

Riley said: “I think it moves the dial back more towards where we probably were in the pre-VAR world where referees had a really good understanding of what Premier League was about and players knew where referees were coming from.”

On the plus side, 19 goals which were ruled out for offside last season will now be allowed to stand.

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However, if the latest Premier League refereeing guidelines for the new season were in place this summer, Raheem Sterling might not have won that late penalty against Denmark at the Euros.

On balance, Riley, the head of the Professional Game Match Officials who has overseen a major reinterpretation of the laws for the coming campaign, just hopes football will feel like football again.

“Fundamentally we want the approach to be the one that best allows the Premier League to flow,” he said. “The threshold for intervention by both referees and assistants, including VAR, will be slightly higher than it was last season.”

No longer will a player be able to snag his foot deliberately on a defender’s leg to get the referee to point to the spot.

First, there has to be contact, but enough actually to cause the fall. If the referee thinks an attacker has gone into the challenge looking for the penalty, he is now instructed to wave play on.

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“Both players and defenders want it to be a ‘proper’ foul that has a consequence, not something where players use the slightest of contacts to go over and we have given them a penalty to reward it,” Riley said.

In return for not tumbling so easily, strikers are being promised that penalties will be given for fouls even if they do not go to ground.

“We made a mistake in a game last season where there was clear contact, the player stayed on his feet but went wide and VAR should have given a penalty,” he said. “Had we done so we would have reassured players that they will get penalties without going down.”

Thicker lines will be drawn for those marginal offsides and, unless there is clear daylight between them, the attacker will be considered ‘level’.

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“That way we would give back to the game around 20 goals that were ruled out by the more forensic scrutiny,” Riley said. “The toenails and noses of players were offside last season – they won’t be next year.”

This new interpretation of the handball law recognises that arms will naturally be raised if a player is jumping and that when a ball is kicked from close range, it is not always possible to move an arm out of the way.

The only time “accidental handball” is now not recognised is if the player himself takes advantage to score a goal.

There will still be the usual debates, of course. Indeed, the only thing for certain is that VAR is here to stay.

“Undoubtedly we have got a higher rate of better decisions with VAR,” Riley said. “We said it would be a three-to-five year project. Rugby was probably seven years before it got to a good place. Cricket probably the same amount of time.

“It takes time to harness the benefits of technology and time to understand for each competition where those levels lie.”

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