2021-22, What to Expect as the New Premier League Season Kicks Off: Capacity Crowds, Big Signings, New Bosses

Newly promoted Brentford launch the 2021-22 Premier League season when they host Arsenal on Friday,the first of 380 matches over the next nine months.

The London derby at the Brentford Community Stadium – the first league meeting between the two clubs since 1947 – takes place 33 days after the Euro 2020 final at Wembley.

Champions Manchester City, who have smashed the British transfer record to sign Jack Grealish from Aston Villa for £100m, begin their title defence at Tottenham on Sunday (16:30).

Champions league winners Chelsea play host to Crystal Palace on Saturday (15:00).

“This season is going to be one of the strongest Premier League seasons,” said Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, manager of last season’s runners-up Manchester United.

“Anyone who ends up above last year’s champions will be champions.”

For the first time in 17 months, capacity crowds would be allowed back at the grounds following the easing of coronavirus restrictions.

While Brentford – nicknamed the Bees – are competing in the Premier League for the first time, Watford and Norwich have both made quick-fire returns after being relegated in 2019-20.

Four clubs – Crystal Palace, Wolves, Everton and Tottenham – start the season with new bosses.

Who are the big signings to look out for? What are the rule changes? What are the Covid-19 protocols? What else is new?

Big signings so far: Grealish, Sancho & Lukaku

Manchester City, who finished 12 points clear at the top last season, have shown they mean business again by spending a British record £100m on Aston Villa captain Grealish.

The fee surpasses the £89m Manchester United paid to re-sign midfielder Paul Pogba from Juventus in 2016.

In addition, City have indicated an interest in Tottenham striker Harry Kane as they aim to win the league for the fourth time in five seasons under Pep Guardiola.

With the summer transfer window deadline on the 31st of August,

clubs still have time to strengthen squads once the season has started.

Manchester United have already signed England winger Jadon Sancho and are set to add France 2018 World Cup winning defender Raphael Varane at a combined £107m.

Chelsea have splashed out a club record £97.5m for former United striker Romelo Lukaku from Inter Milan, while Arsenal have signed Brighton’s England defender Ben White for £50m as the Gunners look to improve on last season’s eighth place.

Liverpool, who have Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez back in contention after long-term injuries, have added defender Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig for £35m

Elsewhere, Villa have spent a combined £83m on England striker Danny Ings, Argentine midfielder Emiliano Buendia from Norwich City and winger Leon Bailey from Bayer Leverkusen.

FA Cup winners Leicester , who beat Manchester City in the community shield last Saturday, have added midfielder Boubakary Soumare from Lille for a reported £17m.

Tottenham have signed Argentina defender Christian Romero from Atalanta for £42.5m.

Notable outgoings include Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero to Barcelona, Chelsea’s Olivier Giroud to AC Milan and Liverpool’s Georginio Wijnaldum to Paris St-Germain.

New faces in charge

One-fifth of clubs in the Premier League have changed managers since the final day of last season on 23 May.

Nuno Espirito Santo, who guided Wolves to two top-seven finishes, the FA Cup semi-finals and Europa League quarter-finals before leaving in May, has taken over at Tottenham, who had Ryan Mason in caretaker charge at the end of last season following Jose Mourinhos sacking

Rafael Benitez is back in the Premier League after a two-year absence following his appointment at Everton – which has not been well received by all Toffees fans.

The former Liverpool manager, who has replaced Carlo Ancelotti, called Everton a “small club” after a draw in the Merseyside derby in 2007.

“It was a long time ago,” Benitez, just the second man to take charge of both Everton and Liverpool, replied to a question about his “small club” comment.

Thicker lines: VAR to be ‘dialed back’

The video assistant referee system was introduced to the Premier League in 2019 to review “clear and obvious errors” in four game-changing incidents: goals, penalties, straight red cards and mistaken identity.

Despite criticism of the system from managers, VAR stays for 2021-22 but there have been adjustments.

Thicker lines will be used when using VAR to assess offside calls.

Last season there were several instances where a player’s toe or armpit led to goals being ruled out, which fans and pundits felt was ruining the game.

The use of VAR will be ‘dialed back’, with officials told not to penalize “trivial things”.

Referees will be under orders not to give the kind of penalty that England’s Raheem Sterling was awarded in their Euro 2020 semi-final win over Denmark.

There was only minimal contact on Sterling when he won a late spot-kick.

Players to continue taking the knee

Players from all 20 Premier League clubs will continue to take the knee before matches to highlight their opposition to racism.

The Premier League say they “support wholeheartedly” the decision that has been made.

A ‘No Room For Racism’ sleeve badge will also be worn by players and match officials on their shirts.

“We feel now, more than ever, it is important for us to continue to take the knee as a symbol of our unity against all forms of racism,” said a players statement released through the Premier League.

Season to start with close to capacity crowds

Not since March 2020 have there been capacity crowds at Premier League matches because of Covid-19.

Capacity limits at sporting venues were lifted on 19 July, when the government stripped away almost all remaining legal restrictions related to coronavirus.

The 2021-22 season is set to start with grounds close to full capacity, except for any seating deemed to be close enough to the playing area to fall into the ‘red zone’ of the stadium.

The UK government is yet to decide whether to make it compulsory for fans to show proof of full vaccination from the end of September.

Reports have suggested proof could be required for events, such as football matches, with crowds of 20,000 or more.

The Premier League wants all clubs to trial Covid-19 ticketing measures before possible government-mandated passports.

Chelsea have announced fans will need to “provide evidence they are at low risk of transmitting Covid-19” to enter Stamford Bridge.

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