Premier League rule changes: What they are and how Brighton's giant defenders can benefit

The Premier League, together with Professional Game Match Officials Limited [PGMOL], has introduced a number of rule changes for the 2021/22 season, to alter the way in which VAR is operated during matches.

James Tarkowski’s goal against Albion at Turf Moor last Saturday would likely have been chalked off last season for a foul on Neal Maupay
James Tarkowski’s goal against Albion at Turf Moor last Saturday would likely have been chalked off last season for a foul on Neal Maupay

After several marginal offside decisions were deemed unjust by both fans and clubs last season, PGMOL pitched the concept of using ‘thicker lines’ when reviewing tight offside calls, in the hope that attacking sides would benefit from more leniency when running in behind.

In principal, as players will no longer be penalised for being a toenail offside, fans should now experience a more free-flowing and attacking spectacle.

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In addition, match officials have been informed to award penalties only when there is clear, consequential contact from the defender, rather than simply for the slightest touch.

It seems PGMOL are eager to listen to feedback from fans and clubs and have tried to make significant changes to help improve the flow of the game, even down to scrapping the five substitutions rule introduced during the pandemic.

Unsurprisingly, fans saw a glimpse of these new changes in action during the opening weekend, with the officials offering the benefit of the doubt to attacking sides in most cases.

Remarkably, none of the 10 fixtures resulted in a draw, and there was an average of 3.4 goals per game in the Premier League last weekend.

Brighton fortunately came from behind to beat Burnley at Turf Moor, but only after James Tarkowski bulldozed through Neal Maupay to head the hosts in front from a corner early on.

Charging in to attack the corner like a battering ram, the Burnley defender sent Maupay tumbling in the box before heading past Sanchez. The goal would have almost certainly resulted in an Albion free-kick last season, but, the officials at Stockley Park showed little interest in overturning the on-field decision, and it has since divided opinion.

On Match of the Day, Alan Shearer agreed with the referees, saying: ‘What’s [Tarkowski] meant to do? He’s not going to say “Okay, I’m going to stop”. Maupay is just trying to block him – he’s not even looking at the ball.’

However, Maupay chuckled in disbelief with the interviewer after the game, stating: “I was 100 per cent fouled. I was thrown to the ground.”

Although the scales tipped in Burnley’s favour this time, Brighton do have the necessary tools to exploit any potential leniency from attacking set-pieces.

With Lewis Dunk, Adam Webster and Dan Burn standing taller than 1.9m, Albion should pose a serious aerial threat and look to charge aggressively towards the ball in games, as Tarkowski did.

Elsewhere, with help from the new rule changes, Bruno Fernandes (right) notched his first hat-trick for Manchester United during their 5-1 thrashing against Leeds.

His third goal forced VAR officials to debut the ‘thicker lines’, as they tried to determine the very tight offside call between Fernandes and Luke Ayling.

Although many expected the goal to be disallowed as it would have certainly been last season, Fernandes’ hat-trick was ultimately awarded, evidencing the benefit towards attackers once again.

Taking nothing away from Fernandes and Solskjaer, Manchester United’s gameplan was clearly setup to run in behind at every opportunity and put this new rule change to the test.

Although Fernandes lacks the pace of a Jamie Vardy or Mohamed Salah – players who have made a career out of running off the shoulder of the last defender – his intelligence to make runs from deep hurt Leeds considerably, and this is something Potter should instruct Leandro Trossard, Alexis Mac Allister and Steven Alzate to emulate from attacking midfield in the coming weeks.

It is too early to tell exactly how these rule changes will shape the Premier League in the long-term, but the opening weekend certainly showed a glimpse of what’s on the horizon in terms of officiating this season.