Manchester United will be hoping to start their campaign with a win against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Monday night, but having seen the Premier League action over the weekend, there may be cause for concern.
Refereeing has undergone a couple of key changes which could have a dramatic affect upon The Red Devils’ campaign.
Most obvious to observers will, of course, be the new approach to additional time, which has seen a number of fixtures feature 55 minute halves due to stoppages.
For Man United, that is more likely to be a help than a hindrance. Under Erik ten Hag, time wasting has rarely been an adopted strategy, with the manager keen to utilise the pace and dynamism of the team to create chances.
It was a rarity last season to see goal kicks or throw ins used to slow the game down by United, although they were often on the receiving end of such tactics.
Where Ten Hag may start to worry, however, is the increased focus on discipline. Cards have been handed out far more regularly on this opening weekend than the one last season.
In the ten matches that made up matchday one last term, thirty yellow cards were handed out. This season – with a game still to play – that number has risen to thirty six.
That represents a 25% increase in the frequency with which cards are handed out per match, and that does not account for the red card shown to Burnley for a late foul in their opener against Man City either.
Alarmingly for Man United fans, a lot of those additional yellow cards were for dissent or, to put it another way, annoying the officials.
You can probably see where we’re going with this.
Bruno Fernandes has been going after referees since he was 3ft8 and, fortunately for United, he has mostly been able to get away with it. That could well be set to change with the league’s new approach to refereeing.
A zero tolerance policy on dissent of any kind is slightly jarring given the amount of protection officials enjoy from scrutiny in this day and age, but the newly-installed club captain will need to find a way to adapt if he is to continue to be Manchester United’s ‘Mr. Reliable’ in terms of availability. He simply isn’t a player the team does well without.
A similar case could probably be made for Casemiro as well. He is rarely in the face of referees, but last season showed that he must have done something to get their attention, with the Brazilian often pulled up on fairly innocuous challenges and treated rather harshly in terms of bookings.
While it is unclear if the card-happy refereeing will last throughout the season – these kinds of changes often fade a little a few weeks into the season – Manchester United will need to keep their emotions in check, or risk putting Erik ten Hag’s squad depth under severe pressure during what looks to be a difficult start to the campaign.