The Premier League is finally coming back! But what do you need to know going in? Here's a handy guide to what (and who) is new this season...
The long wait is finally nearly over. After a summer of disappointing international football for England, the cream of the world’s footballing crop will soon return to the UK to kick off the 25th Premier League season.
Football fans won’t need us to point out that the Premier League’s 2016/17 season begins again on 13 August, but we thought we’d do a lightning fast roundup of everything you might not know – from rule changes to fresh faces.
25 years of top tier action
Founded in 1992, this year’s league marks 25 years of Premier League action. 20 teams, 380 matches, and a TV audience of 4.7 billion people around the globe – the upper echelon of professional football is one of the world’s biggest sporting institutions. And taking the mantle of returning champs this year? Unlikely heroes Leicester City.
One of the great underdog triumphs in sporting history, the Foxes beat all the odds to win last year’s Premier League title, going down in the history books by climbing from near relegation in 2014/15, to topple the big four (and everyone else) in their wake.
Steered to victory by new manager Claudio Ranieri, it was Leicester’s first league win in the club’s 132-year history (with early bookie odds on them winning at 5000-1), so all eyes will be on the Foxes again this year.
2016/17 rule changes
There’ve been a few key changes to the official rulebook for this season – some seen at the Euros and some freshly inked for August. Here’s what you need to know…
1. Kick off
As long as it ‘clearly moves’, the ball can now travel in any direction at kick off. Traditionally it’s always had to move forwards into the opposition’s half.
2. Treating injuries
If a player is fouled seriously (resulting in a red or yellow), they can now stay on the pitch while they recover, rather than having to head off to seek medical help. This is to redress the issue that the foulee’s team would temporarily be a man down.
3. Bad behaviour
Disrespectful conduct is being clamped down on this year, with referees encouraged to flash red and yellow cards in the face of any player contesting a decision with attitude and bad language. You can now even be red carded before the game – as early as the walk out from the tunnel.
4. False starts
The ball now has to ‘clearly move’ from a corner or free kick, which puts an end to those tricky half touches that seek to fool defensive lines.
Similarly, if you get to the end of your penalty run up and slow to a stop to try and trick the keeper, you’ll now be yellow carded and the opposition will win a free kick.
Always a hotly-contested decision, the rules around handballs have now changed slightly so that yellow cards are only drawn if a handball stops a ‘promising attack’.
You’ve now got to have part of your body (excluding arms) fully into the opposition’s half to be flagged offside, whereas in the past the halfway line itself acted as enemy territory.
“The ball now has to ‘clearly move’ from a corner or free kick, which puts an end to those tricky half touches that seek to fool defensive lines.”
8. Off-pitch antics
If a substitute, manager or other off-pitch official interferes with play, the ref is now inclined to give a free kick or a penalty to the opposition.
9. Changing gear
Changing boots? An assistant ref or the fourth official are now allowed to check your new equipment and let you return to the pitch, whereas in the past that decision was the sole preserve of the referee.
Yep…Pants and undershirts now need to match the main colour of shorts and shirts. Don’t ask why.
Upstarts: Five players to keep an eye on
Every Premier League season is rife with fresh faces and rising stars, but who should you be keeping a beady eye on as things progress?
1. Andre Gray
Burnley are hoping that the £6 million spent on Andre Gray will come good as the 25-year-old makes his Premier League debut. Thankfully, his preseason run has been impressive, with many tipping him for England success in the years to come.
2. Viktor Fischer
Having moved to Middlesbrough from Ajax at the end of last season, 22 year-old Fischer has made waves in Scandinavia. “He is a true Ajax footballer,” said club hero Sjaak Swart, “with beautiful moves, a through ball, an unexpected turn – a little Bergkamp-like.”
3. Pierre Emile Højbjerg
A young midfielder who’s already made a name for himself at Bayern Munich, Højbjerg’s move to Southampton – as one of only two new signings – will be closely watched. “They have put trust in me,” he said of his move. “I want to show them they are not wrong.”
4. Sofiane Feghouli
A West Ham signing, Feghouli is a dangerous winger who’s spent the past six seasons lighting up Valencia, where he’s racked up 42 goals in 243 appearances.
5. Joel Matip
Liverpool’s new centre-back has Cameroonian and German descent (27 international caps for the former), and 44 strong appearances for his previous side, Schalke. In that time he’s been up against the best that Europe has to offer, and has demonstrated serious strength and aerial dominance, thanks largely to his towering 6’3” height.
Opening weekend fixtures
Ok, so now you know all about this season’s movers and shakers, there’s only one final thing to talk about: the fixtures.
Thankfully, the season’s opening weekend is set to be a blinder. Things begin, rightly, with returning champs Leicester City squaring off against Hull at 12:30 on 13 August, while Spurs and Everton go head to head at 3pm. Arsenal play Liverpool on the Sunday, while West Ham and Chelsea will give fans something to cheer about at 8pm on the Monday evening.
And things will only get better from there on in…
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