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New Serie A rules should lead to fascinating new tactics and familiar refereeing

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We’re really intrigued to see how every team, particularly Fiorentina, adjusts to the changes.

UC Sampdoria v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A
Get ready for a LOT more of this.
Photo by Paolo Rattini/Getty Images

As Serie A and the rest of the world’s leagues (at least outside of Belarus, Burundi, Nicaragua, and Tajikistan) prepare to resume, the International Football Association Board (IFAB to its friends) has approved two significant law changes. The first is to allow each team 5 substitutions per match, while the second leaves each national governing body the freedom to determine if and how to implement VAR for the remainder of the year.

Let’s look at the substitution rule first. This seems like a pretty obvious one, as players, even after what promises to be furious training, probably won’t be at anything remotely resembling full fitness when play resumes. Between the lengthy layoff, the quick turnaround between matches (we still don’t exactly how it’ll look in Italy, but it could be as few as three days), and the oppressive summer heat—especially if the plan to move all matches to the less-affected south of the country goes through—the potential for every single player to pull both hamstrings within the first half hour is very real.

The rule allows for 5 subs, but only for four substitution breaks: the first at halftime and the other three in the second half, barring injury replacements. That means that at least one sub per match will involve a minimum of two players taking the field together. It’s even conceivable that a team could change half its outfield in one go, but that’s pretty unlikely.

This should allow us to see some really fascinating tactical battles, especially in Italy. For some of the league’s more flexible coaches—Atalanta’s Gian Piero Gasperini, Sampdoria’s Claudio Ranieri, Sassuolo’s Roberto de Zerbi—the opportunity to alter their approach and personnel mid-game with extra subs could provide a significant competitive boost. For misters who stick to a single approach—Fiorentina’s Giuseppe Iachini, Hellas Verona’s Ivan Jurić, Inter Milan’s Antonio Conte—this could push them into more experimentation, or push their clubs down the table as they fail to adapt.

For the Viola in particular, it’ll be fascinating to see if Iachini deploys the 3-4-3 we heard the team was practicing before the coronavirus break hit. Giving Federico Chiesa, Franck Ribery, and Riccardo Sottil room to work out wide rather than up top could work wonders, particularly if this approach allows the club to shift focus away from Gaetano Castrovilli’s bursts from midfield and desperate thumps forward from the defense as the primary attacking outlets.

The second rule change remains rather shrouded in mystery for now, which seems appropriate for anything involving VAR. We’ve heard that Serie A is planning to drop VAR entirely until next year, but there hasn’t been any official word on the subject yet. Since putting a bunch of people in a small booth seems like an unnecessary risk—and the Italian refereeing association seems to agree—it’ll be a throwback to those golden years before uh 2017.

Given that Italian referees are famously incompetent following the loss of a whole generation of match officials due to Calciopoli, it may or may not make any difference. We’ve seen plenty of refs (not mentioning any names, but check with slakas) who can pretty well ruin a match on the peninsula both with and without help from the replay booth. Conspiracy theorists will likely proffer theses about how this will help Juventus seal the league over Lazio (a pair of truly miserable options), but as trying to predict refereeing outcomes in Italy is simultaneously futile and facile, there’s no way to know until we’ve actually seen the new system in place.

Through a Viola-colored lens, this doesn’t make any real difference. I can’t think of any refs who hold a particularly strong pro- or anti-Fiorentina stance that could possibly be altered by a VAR-less approach, so it’ll likely just lead to more confusion and maybe to more protests from the players on the pitch (cue José Callejón shrieking at the officials with even greater frequency).

Combined with what will doubtless be empty stadia, the rest of the season is definitely going to look different, but we already knew that. Instead of lamenting the enforced changes or mourning the imminent return of VAR in subsequent seasons, it makes a lot more sense to focus on what could be new and interesting here.