Rule changes being introduced for the 2019/20 season are aimed to make decision-making clearer for referees such as Bibiana Steinhaus (r.). - © 2019 Getty Images
Rule changes being introduced for the 2019/20 season are aimed to make decision-making clearer for referees such as Bibiana Steinhaus (r.). - © 2019 Getty Images

Rule changes in 2019/20: Handball, penalties, substitutions, the wall and more


The International Football Association Board (IFAB) has agreed a number of new rules and regulations to come into effect for the upcoming 2019/20 season.

The IFAB is the body that determines the Laws of the Game in football and consists of representatives from world governing body FIFA, as well as the Football Associations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Together they agree standardised rules for international competition, with annual changes coming into force on 1 July each year. gives you a brief overview of what you need to look out for next season…


Many in the game believe greater clarity is needed for referees when it comes to handballs, therefore the IFAB has re-worded a number of rules.

It stresses that a deliberate handball remains an offence but that the following scenarios will result in a free-kick even if accidental:

  • if the ball goes into the goal after touching an attacking player’s hand or arm
  • a player gains control/possession of the ball after it touches their hand/arm and then scores, or creates a goal-scoring opportunity
  • a ball touches a player’s hand/arm which has made their body unnaturally bigger
  • the ball touches a player’s hand/arm when it is above their shoulder (unless the player has deliberately played the ball which then touches their hand/arm)

Bayern Munich’s Thomas Müller had a goal ruled out for handball by VAR in 2018/19, and this rule will now apply to all goals regardless of whether the handball was deliberate or not. - 2018 Getty Images

However, the following will not usually be a free-kick unless they are one of the above situations:

  • the ball touches a player’s hand/arm directly from their own head/body/foot or the head/body/foot of another player who is close/near
  • the ball touches a player’s hand/arm which is close to their body and has not made their body unnaturally bigger
  • if a player is falling and the ball touches their hand/arm when it is between their body and the ground to support the body (but not extended to make the body bigger)
  • if the goalkeeper attempts to ‘clear’ (release into play) a throw-in or deliberate kick from a teammate but the ‘clearance’ fails, the goalkeeper can then handle the ball

Penalty kicks

Here the IFAB has introduced clarification on where the goalkeeper may stand during a penalty. The rule now states: “The goalkeeper must have at least part of one foot on/in line with the goal line when the kick is taken; they cannot stand behind the line.” This allows for easier identification of whether the goalkeeper is on their line, as they may also be jumping. It also allows the goalkeeper to take a step in anticipation as the kicker can ‘stutter’ their run.

The goalkeeper must also not be touching the goalposts, crossbar or nets, which must not be moving.

Watch: The Bundesliga’s best goalkeepers on FIFA19

A further addition regarding the taker is that they may receive (quick) treatment/assessment following a foul before taking the kick. In usual cases they would have to leave the field and be unable to take the penalty.


The number of substitutes in a Bundesliga Matchday squad will increase from seven to nine. However, only six per team will be allowed to warm up at the same time. As in other competitions where extra-time can be played, a fourth substitution will be allowed in the Bundesliga play-off should an additional 30 minutes be required in the second leg.

However, perhaps the most noticeable change is how substitutions are made. Designed to prevent players ‘wasting’ time by leaving the pitch slowly at the halfway line, a player being substituted must now “leave the field by the nearest point on the touchline/goal line (as with an injury). A player who infringes this law can be sanctioned for unsporting behaviour i.e. delaying the restart of play.”

Players will no longer walk to the halfway line to be substituted, meaning 2018/19’s most frequent substitute Claudio Pizarro would have missed out on a lot of high fives and hugs. - imago images / Nordphoto

Exceptions to this rule include when “the referee indicates the player can leave quickly/immediately at the halfway line or a different point because of safety, injury etc.” Such scenarios could include safety/security issues or if the player is leaving on a stretcher. However, the player must go immediately to the technical area or the dressing room.


A rule that has been the source of frustration for many years has finally been rectified. Previously the ball had to leave the penalty area from a goal-kick before being touched, but the change now states “the ball is in play once the kick is taken and can be played before leaving the penalty area”.

This is to make restarts faster as well as avoid tactical ‘wasting’ of time when a defender deliberately plays the ball before leaving the area, knowing the goal-kick will be retaken. However, opponents must remain outside the penalty area until the ball is in play.


Perhaps one of the more noticeable changes concerns the wall at free-kicks. Previously, attacking players would often place themselves within the wall to try and create a gap to shoot through. This would often cause “management problems and waste time” so has been outlawed.

The rule now states: “When there is a ‘wall’ of three or more defenders, the attackers are not allowed within 1m (1 yd) of the wall; an attacker less than 1m (1yd) from the ‘wall’ when the kick is taken will be penalised with an indirect free-kick”.

The presence of attacking players in a wall of three players or more for free-kicks has now been outlawed. - imago images / Uwe Kraft

For free-kicks at the other end of the pitch, the same rule as goal-kicks now applies where the ball does not have to leave the penalty area before it can be played. As above, opponents must remain outside the box and 10 yards away until the ball is in play.

Quick free-kicks

Previously, the referee was able to pull play back if a team played a quick free-kick but they were about to issue a card. Now the official can delay showing the card until the next stoppage if:

  • the non-offending team takes the free-kick quickly and creates a goal-scoring opportunity
  • and the offending team was not distracted by the referee.

The explanation for this is as follows: “Occasionally, an attack is stopped by a cautionable or sending-off offence and the attacking team takes a quick free-kick which restores the ‘lost’ attack; it is clearly ‘unfair’ if this ‘new’ attack is stopped to issue the card.”

Watch: The Bundesliga’s best free-kick takers on FIFA19

One point to note is that if the foul denies an obvious goal-scoring opportunity and the attack is restarted quickly, the offending player will receive a yellow card and not a red, as is the case when an advantage is applied for such a scenario.

Goal celebrations

A yellow card for an ‘illegal’ celebration (e.g. removing the shirt) remains even if the goal is later disallowed.


Recent changes to the kick-off have made it more dynamic (e.g. a goal can be scored directly from the kick-off), meaning captains winning the pre-match toss often ask to take the kick-off.

The newest rule states that “the team that wins the toss can now choose to take the kick-off or which goal to attack (previously they only had the choice of which goal to attack)”.

Dropped balls

According to the IFAB, “The current dropped ball procedure often leads to a ‘manufactured’ restart which is ‘exploited’ unfairly (e.g. kicking the ball out for a throw-in deep in the opponents’ half) or an aggressive confrontation. Returning the ball to the team that last played it restores what was ‘lost’ when play was stopped. To prevent that team gaining an unfair advantage, all players of both teams, except the player receiving the ball, must be at least 4m (4.5 yds) away”.

They have therefore introduced the following changes:

  • If play is stopped inside the penalty area, the ball will be dropped for the goalkeeper
  • If play is stopped outside the penalty area, the ball will be dropped for one player of the team that last touched the ball at the point of the last touch
  • In all cases, all the other players (of both teams) must be at least 4m (4.5yds) away

The way dropped balls are conducted will also change for the new season. - imago/Sven Simon

A further point to note is that from now on a dropped ball will be awarded if the ball touches a match official and the ball goes into the goal, team possession changes or a promising attack starts.

Team officials

Team officials can now be shown red or yellow cards for misconduct (according to Law 12). If the offender cannot be identified, the senior coach who is in the technical area at the time will receive the card.

Players’ equipment

Multi-coloured/patterned undershirts are allowed if they are the same as the sleeve of the main shirt. This also helps match officials’ decision-making.

Medical breaks

The difference between a ‘cooling’ break (90 secs – 3 mins) and ‘drinks’ breaks (max 1 min) is clarified.

‘Cooling’ breaks are for player safety in certain weather conditions to allow the body’s temperature to fall. They are different from ‘drinks’ breaks, which are for rehydration.