2021-22 Premier League: Capacity crowds, big signings, new bosses

Dates: 13 August 2021-22 May 2022
Coverage: Watch highlights on Match of the Day on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer and online; Listen to live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live, Sports Extra and Sounds; live text on BBC Sport website and app.

Newly promoted Brentford launch the 2021-22 Premier League season when they host Arsenal on Friday (20:00 BST) – 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 host 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 will be allowedexternal-link 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, Varane & White

Manchester City, who finished 12 points clear at the top last season, have shown they mean business again by spending £100m on Aston Villa captain and midfielder 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 23:00 BST on 31 August,external-link clubs still have time to strengthen squads once the season has started.

Manchester United have spent £107m on England winger Jadon Sancho and France 2018 World Cup winning defender Raphael Varane.

Jadon Sancho returns to north-west England from Germany having previously played for Manchester City
Jadon Sancho returns from Germany having previously played for Manchester City

Chelsea are interested in signing former United striker Romelu 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 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 Cristian 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.

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.

Liverpool fans on The Kop
Top-flight matches are set to be played at close to full capacity

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.

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 Mourinho’s 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.

Nuno Espirito Santo (left), Rafael Benitez (second left), Bruno Lage and Patrick Vieira (right)
Starting the season at a new club: Nuno Espirito Santo (left), Rafael Benitez (second left), Bruno Lage and Patrick Vieira (right)

Benitez is one of four Spaniards managing in the top flight along with Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta, City’s Guardiola and Watford’s Xisco Munoz.

Former Benfica boss Bruno Lage has replaced fellow Portuguese Nuno at Wolves, while France 1998 World Cup winner Patrick Vieira is the new boss at Crystal Palace.

Thicker lines: VAR to be ‘dialled 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 ‘dialled back’, with officials told not to penalise “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.

What else is new for 2021-22?

Beyond the time taken to reach decisions, probably the most contentious aspects of VAR are handball and offside calls.

For the 2021-22 season, both have been amended.

In the case of handball:

  • What is the hand or arm position in relation to body movement?
  • Is the body being made unnaturally bigger?

For accidental handball:

  • It is an offence if an attacker scores directly or immediately after the ball touches a hand or arm.

So the penalty Leeds conceded at Liverpool last September would now not be given, as Mo Salah flicked the ball off Robin Koch’s knee and his arm.

Likewise, Wolves’ Max Kilman would now not be punished for the handball that cost his side against Leicester as his arm would be deemed to be in a natural position.

For offsides:

  • Benefit of doubt for attacking sides now restored.

In addition, assistant referees have now been given greater scope to flag for clear offsides immediately, rather than delay in case they are wrong.

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.

How to follow

The Premier League has been granted government permission to roll over its existing domestic television deal with broadcasters for a further three years.

The new deal with Sky Sports, BT Sport, Amazon Prime Video and BBC Sport will run from 2022 to 2025.

The previous deal was worth £4.7bn.

Premier League matches will continue to be screened live on Sky Sports and BT Sport, while Match of the Day on the BBC will continue to screen highlights.

In addition, BBC Radio 5 Live and 5 Live Sports Extra will have live Premier League commentaries throughout the season.

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