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Five substitutes: What changes can we expect this season?

Managers in the Premier League and English Football League (EFL) can make up to five substitutions per game this season, as is the case in most of Europe’s top divisions.

Five subs were initially allowed at the end of the coronavirus-hit 2019-20 season but – unlike several other leagues – the Premier League and EFL reverted to three subs the following year.

The rule change has been welcomed by managers at top clubs, but critics have argued it favors teams with deeper squads.

To understand the potential impact, PA analyzed data from Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A, Germany’s Bundesliga and France’s Ligue 1, all of which have allowed five substitutions in the last two seasons.

Substitutes get more minutes

Five substitutes will help keep players fresh in a busy season (John Walton/PA)

It goes without saying that an increase in the availability of subs will result in a corresponding increase in their playtime.

In the two seasons before the coronavirus (2017-18 and 2018-19), substitutes accounted for just over six per cent of minutes played in Europe’s top leagues. This has increased to nearly 10 percent in 2020-21 and 2021-22.

The increase in substitution minutes is consistent across the top six clubs and those further down the table.

However, teams are less likely to use their full allocation of submarines than before.

(PA graphic)

(PA graphic)

Since the rule change, managers have used all five subs about half the time (52 percent). This compares to 90 percent of teams that previously made all three changes.

Manager to make changes sooner and later

With two additional substitutes available, managers can spread their changes over the latter part of a game.

Over the past two seasons, teams in Europe’s top leagues have made their first substitution in the 56th minute and their last substitution in the 83rd minute.

This is comparable to the 58th and 81st minutes in the two seasons before the coronavirus.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp speaks to Roberto Firmino and Naby Keita

Managers can make double substitutions without running out of substitutions (Peter Byrne/PA)

The number of substitutions made at half-time is up 76 per cent and managers are less concerned with saving substitutions in the event of injury or a dismissal.

Likewise, there was a 66 percent increase in the number of substitutions made during injury time at the end of a game, compared to a 48 percent increase in the number of total substitutions made.

Defenders to see the biggest increase in minutes

Since the introduction of five substitutions in La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga and Ligue 1, the number of minutes played by substitute defenders has almost doubled.

Defenders have seen a bigger increase than any other position, at 86 percent, with midfielders and forwards seeing increases of 53 and 44 percent, respectively.

(PA graphic)

(PA graphic)

However, over the past two seasons, substitutes have still accounted for a smaller proportion of defenders’ minutes (six percent) than midfielders (12 percent) or forwards (17 percent).

The minutes are distributed more evenly among the teams

Teams have used their extra substitutes during games to handle player workloads and share minutes across the roster.

That means the top 11 are being substituted more often and playing fewer minutes than before, while the fringe players are seeing an increase in their engagement.

(PA graphic)

(PA graphic)

Based on data from 2017-18 and 2018-19 compared to 2020-21 and 2021-22, a club’s talisman (the most used player) is predicted to lose around half an hour of playing time.

In fact, rosters number one through eleven should all expect a drop within minutes, with the largest drop being seen among the fourth, fifth, and sixth most regular picks.

The squad numbers 12 to 25 should experience an almost unanimous increase.

Which players could benefit?

Evidence from mainland Europe suggests that those players who join the squad regularly but rarely leave the bench under the three-substitution rule will add playing time the fastest.

Here is a list of players who made at least 25 Premier League squads last season but clocked under 500 minutes.

  • Steve Alzate (Brighton)
  • Ross Barkley (Chelsea)
  • Ayoze Perez (Leicester)
  • Yan Valery (Southampton)
  • Morgan Sanson (Aston Villa)
  • Hamza Choudhury (Leicester)
  • Joe Gomez (Liverpool)
  • Luke Cundle (Wolves)
  • Crysencio Summerville (Leeds)
  • Kortney home (Aston Villa)

While these types of players are unlikely to start more games, their chances of making cameos off the bench will increase.


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