• Sam Quine


The introduction of the five substitution rule last season was hotly debated, but should it be reintroduced with less controversy this time round?

This season has been unorthodox to say the least with phenomena occurring weekly such as Aston Villa beating Liverpool 7-2, Southampton pushing for a place in Europe and Manchester City sitting in the bottom half of the table.

Popular opinion would say all of this has come as a result of a lack of a real pre-season as well as a blockbuster transfer window.

However, despite this pure entertainment that has been gifted to fans of the premier league, is this rushed approach from the FA paired with a busy football schedule actually detrimental to professional footballers?

A post-lockdown environment last season saw the introduction of five substitutions rather than the typical three.

This rule was brought in to ensure the safety and fitness of players after a long absence out of the game and was generally seen as a success around the league as it minimised injuries where possible.

Nevertheless, a problem arose regarding the gap of quality between the top clubs and those who were fighting relegation.

Clubs like Manchester City, Liverpool were exploiting this rule by bringing on five high-quality players with fresh legs, whereas the likes of Bournemouth and Norwich were struggling to find any talent on their bench whatsoever, ultimately leading to their relegation.

Fast forward to this current season and the rule has been reverted back to three substitutions.

The English top-flight is the only major competition in Europe to limit substitutes to three, following Fifa’s decision to extend an emergency rule that allowed for extra replacements after the return from the first lockdown.

Several have spoken publicly in favour of five substitutes, including some from outside the so-called 'big six', such as Ralph Hasenhüttl of Southampton and West Ham’s David Moyes. Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp and Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola have been particularly critical of the existing regulations.

Guardiola said: “It is time to take care of the main reason why everybody is in this business – the football players. Five substitutions is not about the advantage for some teams, it is to protect the players – all of them in the last 15, 25, 30 minutes. When you play every three days you start to suffer."

Managers are understandably irritated as we are seeing injuries happen more frequently than ever before, almost becoming a weekly occurrence that a top player is sidelined for at least a few weeks.

It is clear that the congested 2020-21 season has created a higher risk of muscle injuries for all players. An example of this is the injury crisis that Liverpool are currently dealing with key players out such as Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Another reason why it may be beneficial to not only players but also viewers is the recent emergence of players testing positive for Covid-19.

Acting in accordance with national guidelines, players have to self-isolate themselves for ten days as we’ve seen with the likes of Alex Telles for Manchester United and Kai Havertz for Chelsea just to name a few.

This has resulted in managers tearing their hair out as they see their squads slowly deplete over time making squad selection a grueling task.

In conclusion, whilst the old football traditionalist may argue that the ‘game is dead’ if three substitutions are increased to five, the 2020/21 season will be tougher than any other.

This means that change must be made in order to guarantee the safety of the players we watch week in week out.