The curtain is about to be raised on a brand new season.

The Fantasy Premier League squads have been picked, the simulations have been run, and the predictions have been calculated.

No one will truly be able to accurately forecast the drama that will unfold in 2023-24, but to reliably predict the future we must look at the past.

There have been some interesting data and tactical trends spotted from last season — including the rise of counter-attacking in the Premier League — but what other signals can we extract from the noise?

Allow The Athletic to walk you through some quirks to look out for ahead of the Premier League’s opening weekend.

Silly actions in the penalty area are just not worth it

Okay, we’ll start with a pretty obvious one.

There is never a good time to commit a foul or handle the ball in the penalty area, but it is valuable to highlight just how truly “not worth it” such actions are.

As The Athletic has previously analysed, a penalty is a wholly disproportionate punishment for the action that precedes it. In the Premier League last season, a penalty had a 79 per cent likelihood of resulting in a goal — or an xG value of 0.79 for us data enthusiasts.

To highlight just how lucrative those opportunities are, only 66 of the 9,525 non-penalty Premier League shots had a higher xG value than a penalty last season. That’s just 0.69 per cent of all shots that were taken in open-play in 2022-23.

Put simply, there is a strong likelihood that the dribbly winger who faces up your centre-back is not going to work it into a better area than if he were to be brought down and able to take an unchallenged shot at goal from 12 yards.

So there really is no need to dangle that leg and make an unnecessary tackle.

Of course, we are now living in a VAR world where slow-motion replays can slice the action to within an inch of its life, but the 99 penalties that were awarded last season was actually the lowest total since 2019-20 (92).

If ever there was a statistic to refer to in the training ground ahead of the new season, it’s that less than one per cent of open-play shots have a greater chance of scoring than a penalty.

Nothing stupid today, lads.

WhichPremier League managers are maximising their bench?

Last season was the first campaign in which clubs were able to call upon five substitutes per match, but not every manager exercised that option.

When the game is on a knife edge, some managers will look to shuffle the pack to impact the game, while others will keep things as they are to enable their starting XI to find its own solution.



Everton are terrible, especially when they lose the ball

A look at last season’s Premier League table — including the newly-promoted sides’ records in the Championship — shows that Chelsea’s inflated squad forced their four managers (including interim boss Bruno Saltor) to make an average of 4.6 changes per game, more than any other side.

The mass summer exodus at Stamford Bridge means the squad is now somewhat slimmed down for Mauricio Pochettino, so you can expect to see less rotation compared with last season’s anomalous campaign.

In contrast, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City averaged just 3.2 substitutions per game — just shy of the league-lowest Everton (3.1). Guardiola has historically preferred a smaller squad, with rotations more likely to come between games rather than within.

And who are we to argue with a treble-winning methodology? Expect to see the league fall into a similar pattern this year.

Thinking outside the box… midfields

Tactical trends will always ebb and flow, but the most notable craze to catch the eye among the top teams was the transition from a 4-3-3 to a box midfield shape in possession.

A glance at the average formations used would suggest that a back four was the predominant structure adopted by Premier League managers, but starting formations have rarely been able to outline the true in-game shape of a team.

Instead, it is more useful to look at passing networks to accurately reflect what a team is looking to do in possession.

For example, Guardiola has inverted his full-backs for many seasons at Manchester City, but the consistency and fluidity with which Rico Lewis, Bernardo Silva, Sergio Gomez and John Stones — who would go on to join the midfield from centre-back — all entered midfield was particularly notable last season.

It is a trend that was also adopted by Brighton, Arsenal and, later, Liverpool who all created a numerical advantage in midfield to advance through the thirds.

It has been a seamless tactical approach from the elite sides, but the question this season is: will we see such an approach trickle down the league more widely? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery after all, but if teams have seen the efficacy of this in-possession style to have more bodies in central areas, we could see this structure becoming more commonplace across the league.

New boys Burnley often invert their full-backs in Vincent Kompany’s possession-dominant style adopted from his former manager. Could the likes of Wolves, West Ham or Crystal Palace also follow suit in their build-up play? Keep an eye out.

Who faces the biggest tactical shift?

Closely linked to the above, which set of fans are most likely to be shocked by their team’s style on the first day?

Unai Emery and Roberto De Zerbi have had their first full pre-season with Aston Villa and Brighton, respectively, while Pochettino is looking to provide Chelsea with a clearer identity following a campaign of utter chaos.

The most drastic shift in playing style, however, is likely to be found in north London, where Tottenham’s players will implement Ange Postecoglou’s possession-based, high-intensity football.

After multiple seasons of low-block, counter-attacking play under Jose Mourinho, Nuno Espirito Santo and Antonio Conte, Spurs fans can be optimistic of a more entertaining, dominant spectacle in the upcoming season.

“There are certain things that are non-negotiable, and the first one is (that) I want my teams to have the ball,” Postecoglou said during Hudl’s High Performance Insights in 2020. “So, our attacking philosophy, our defensive philosophy is all sort of measured around that.”

From that defensive perspective, Spurs’ previous high press under Pochettino has become a distant memory, with their defensive actions in the opposition half largely falling below league average for the past four seasons. Just 4.4 possessions won in the attacking third per 90 was the fifth-lowest in the division last season — expect that to change under Postecoglou.

Elsewhere, Bournemouth fans will need to adapt to new boss Andoni Iraola’s style of play, with the Spanish manager a keen advocate of direct, energetic football.

Throughout two whirlwind seasons at Rayo Vallecano, the young Basque coach implemented a courageous style of play that led to giant-killings aplenty in the Spanish top flight, taking 10 points from a possible 12 against Barcelona, while beating Real Madrid, Villarreal and Sevilla during a triumphant return to La Liga.

A disciplined, high-pressing side, no team in Spain recovered the ball in the attacking third more often than plucky Rayo’s 6.2 times per game last season, generating 57 shots from their intrepid approach.

Bournemouth, on the other hand, allowed the most passes per defensive action (PPDA) in the Premier League last season, meaning that in other words the Cherries employed the least intense press in the division.

Visiting teams should expect much less time on the ball when they visit the Vitality Stadium this campaign.

Long shots are long gone

Was it just us, or did the Premier League’s goal of the season collection feel slightly… tame last time around?

Nothing beats a long-range screamer, but fewer players than ever are going for the spectacular in the Premier League, with just one goal scored from more than 30 metres last term — a side-footed effort from Jonny to lob stranded Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier.

Despite the odd sweetly-struck shot, the data shows a marked decline in the number of long-range attempts, with a steep decline since 2018-19. Since then, the average shot distance in the Premier League has dropped by more than five percent, while the proportion of shots taken from outside the penalty area has plummeted to an all-time low.

It’s a trend that looks set to continue, with teams increasingly looking to generate high-quality opportunities in front of goal, rather than take their chances with low-probability, long-distance shots.

Equally impactful will be the departure of some of the division’s great optimists, with Ruben Neves and James Ward-Prowse now playing their football outside of the Premier League, although the Englishman is expected to return to the top-flight before the summer transfer window closes.

The Portuguese, in particular, took an incredible 88.1 per cent of his 302 open-play shots from outside the penalty area — a proportion 16.2 per cent higher than any other player to have taken 100 shots across that time.

There are still some long-shot mavericks around, not least Burnley’s Manuel Benson, who will be an intriguing addition to the Premier League, off the back of five sumptuous curling efforts in the Championship last year.

Even so, if you find yourself shouting “ Shoooooooooot!” at a Premier League game next season, prepare for a few more passes first.

No time for caution

Those who watched the Community Shield on Sunday might have felt a bit uneasy as Stuart Attwell reached for his pocket after just eight minutes.

For his first offence, a simple toe-poke of the ball to delay the restarting of the game, Thomas Partey was shown a yellow card without a moment’s hesitation, leaving the Ghanaian walking a tightrope for the rest of the contest.

It’s not something we’re particularly used to in the Premier League, where an average of 6.1 fouls were committed before a booking was awarded last season — the most lenient figure throughout Europe’s top five leagues. Tougher refereeing directives, however, mean that we can expect much stricter punishment going forward for football’s pettiest crimes.

The Premier League saw far fewer red cards than other major European divisions last season, with almost five-times fewer sending offs than La Liga. The Premier League figure is expected to rise, though, as the crackdown on time wasting and talking back begins.

Drilling down into the Premier League more specifically, the numbers suggest that some teams can feel more hard done by than others when it comes to officiating.

Last season, West Ham and Manchester City were the most leniently treated sides, getting away with close to eight fouls before referees reached for their pocket. Committing just 9.5 and 9.1 fouls per game respectively, a combination of good behaviour and forgiving referees saw them receive 44 yellow cards each, the joint-fewest in the division.

On the other side of the coin, Chelsea and Everton were not in PGMOL’s (Professional Game Match Officials Limited) good books, needing just five fouls to draw a card last campaign.

Generally speaking, however, the teams who fouled the least were carded the least, while Leeds, Wolves, Crystal Palace and Nottingham Forest were suitably punished for their higher fouling rates.

Admittedly, not all fouls are made equal; a cynical, tactical challenge to prevent a counter-attack holds much more significance than a mistimed lunge. The perceived impact of fouls and escaped yellow cards across the course of a season is something that’s difficult to entangle from the emotion of the game.

For now, we’re just here with the raw numbers, and to warn Premier League players not to take too many liberties with the upcoming season’s stricter cohort of referees.

“Get it in the mixer”

Manchester United’s new striker Rasmus Hojlund is a raw talent with a high ceiling, but anyone who has watched his highlights reel can tell you that he comes alive when getting on the end of a low cross.

Interestingly, United were not too forthcoming in making crosses last season, with the highest passes per cross among all teams competing in the Premier League in 2023-24. With Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho or Antony often looking to drive inside the pitch from wide areas, there might be an adaptation required among Erik ten Hag’s forwards this season — to recognise the strengths of each other’s game.

One side who will certainly keep on crossing are Luton Town, whose accurate deliveries into the box propelled them into the Premier League. Of the 72 teams in the English football pyramid, they generated the most expected goals per game via crosses at 0.41, netting 13 times from the ball being whipped in during their promotion campaign.

In particular, Carlton Morris was a dangerous target from a variety of balls into the box — only five players, including Erling Haaland and Harry Kane, scored more headed goals than his six last campaign. His decisive leap and finish against Bristol City in March illustrates the kind of aerial threat he will bring to the Premier League this season.

A more pertinent Luton number is their average of just 21.8 passes before swinging in a cross, the second-lowest of all 72 EFL sides. Only Stevenage resorted to wide deliveries more often per possession than the Hatters last season — a route that Rob Edwards might look to continue exploiting as their time on the ball decreases.

The signing of Ryan Giles from Wolves at left wing-back will only improve their goalscoring prospects from wide areas, as the player who attempted the most crosses of anyone in the EFL (on loan at Middlesbrough) — 68 more than Kieran Trippier in second place.

With a league-leading 10 open play assists in the Championship last season, expect the 23-year-old to be a crucial outlet for the newly-promoted side next campaign.

(Top photos: Getty Images)