Do Premier League clubs really need to have five subs available?

Fans and managers are split over the need to introduce two extra substitutes

As football restarted following Covid shutdown, the worldwide football community from the Champions and Europa leagues, to the international games, the top flights of Europe, and even the MLS in USA allowed an additional two subs per match.

But the Premier League reverted back to three substitutions come the start of the 2021/22 season with the Championship, League One and League Two continuing to allow five subs.

There was a majority “nay” from Premier League managers about continuing the use of five subs but fans, pundits and football lovers are still questioning whether five substitutions will be the new way of football?

And for us West Ham fans, will ‘Dithering Dave’ ever learn to use subs properly?

Modern football lovers debating the use of three or five substitutions might not realise that at one time no subs were allowed in the game and it wasn’t until the 1965-66 season that a single substitution was allowed on as replacement for an injured player. 

It took another 20 years in 1987 for two substitutions to be introduced into the game, and almost another 10 years in the 1994-95 season for our current three substitutions to be used – although one of those had to be a goalkeeper.

It was the 1996-97 season that saw a full three substitutions being used freely for either tactical or injury reasons. 

With the current pandemic affecting the league in 2020, it was decided that due to the lack of consistent and physical play as well as the uncertainty of possible Covid infections that five in game substitutions  (with the availability bench of nine) would allow clubs to keep their players healthy and their options protected. 

The Bundesliga began first among top clubs with these substitution rates and everyone followed.

With all top flight European clubs accepting the five-sub rule and even the lower tiers of English football playing along, its either due to superior notions of Premier League play, or the harsh competitive play of the EPL where a 14 of 20 majority vote was needed to push through the new sub rule, which only secured nine of 20 “yays” for the change.

There was a trend of the classic top six clubs supporting the new five-sub rule, and the lower table clubs supporting the standard three.

Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola, Frank Lampard, Carlo Ancelotti, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, and Mikel Arteta  – of Liverpool, Man City, Chelsea, Everton, Man Utd and Arsenal – voted yes because of the health of the players.

Meanwhile Brendan Rodgers, our very own David Moyes, Dean Smith, Roy Hodgson, Sean Dyche, Scott Parker and Chris Wilder – of Leicester, Villa, Palace, Burnley, Fulham and Sheff Utd – voted no because of the advantage to bigger clubs.

But interestingly both Brighton’s Graham Potter and West Brom’s Slaven Bilic voted yes because of the health of players, while Nuno Espírito Santo and Steve Bruce – of Wolves and Newcastle – didn’t believe five subs would have any impact on the health of players.

You can see the main fight was between bigger clubs who might have tactical advantage but are also playing more games and having longer cup runs versus less financed clubs not having the bench depth where more substitutions would actually make an impact.

Two of the most interesting opinions are of Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho who is not strongly for five subs but thinks the ability to have more substitutions would allow for more players to get a chance to play, while Southampton’s Ralph Hassenhuttl arguing that more substitutions would actually be more dangerous to players health as more fresh legged subs would mean that the game would speed up where tiring players would be injury prone trying to play against match their energy.

You’d be hard pressed to find a West Ham fan not supporting David Moyes right now as we enter the month of December.

With three hard-fought wins on the bounce – ending November in fifth place, and a win ratio of 38.24% this season, social media outlets, podcasts, and pundits are taking back earlier criticisms and reluctantly hailing “the Moyesiah”.  

This uniform praise is not without the exasperation of fans who still have yet to comprehend Moyes’ in-game management specifically as it regards substitutions.

Where most managers and fans would substitute a player to impact a game at 60 minutes, Moyes waits until the 80th minute.  

Where West Ham supporters would want an attacking winger to come on, Moyes puts on a holding midfielder, or when the game is crying out for pace to accelerate a counterattack, Moyes subs on a slow tricky inverted winger.  

Rarely is it until the end of the match or injury time that Moyes even cools his bench, leaving the question for additional subs an extravagant if not moot argument in the scheme of current West Ham play.

When West Ham played Aston Villa, supporters were shocked and delighted by a halftime change of two players – Haller and Benrahma – coming on for Antonio and Masuaku.

Perhaps Moyes will change after all, but among clubs you won’t find West Ham arguing for more substitutions anytime soon – they’d just as soon be able to use their first three.

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