Premier League substitutions vote a rare display of common sense

In a welcome boost for those outside of the Premier Leagueโ€™s big six hegemony, clubs voted against continuing with five Premier League substitutions per game next season.

For the Project Restart to go ahead, concessions were always going to have to be made and this competition like all others, had player welfare at the forefront of the conversation. With 92 fixtures played in just 42 days, the turnover from one clash to the next was faster than we had ever seen before. Although a feast of football was on the horizon, it would be no good if the players involved were undercooked.

Playing twice a week for six weeks, shouldnโ€™t be the most difficult task for a top-tier athlete and the biggest clubs in the land already do this at the โ€˜business endโ€™ of the season, as the pursuit for prizes intensifies.

However, it is a slightly different ask when you have been mothballed for three months and, with the fear that a ยฃ100,000 a week star could see his hamstring pop at any moment, concessions regarding the size of matchday squads were made.

A decision that meant, an unprecedented five Premier League substitutions could be utilised in any of the post-restart Premier League fixtures. Not only that but the quintet would be selected from nine rather than seven available options.

It was a rule that had the potential to permanently distort the landscape of the Premier League, as teams with bigger and deeper squads had two more rolls of the dice and the opportunity to throw more of the star names onto the playing field.

Admittedly there was not a hugely obvious advantage gained by the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City during those final nine gameweeks but that may have been down to a smaller window of opportunity. If that window was stretched over an entire Premier League season it would surely prove to be a huge advantage.

However, in a hammer blow to the bigger clubs the continuation of additional Premier League substitutions was overruled and the 2020/21 season will see a return to a maximum of three substitutes with matchday squads also returning to 18 players.

Although the International FA Board (IFAB) said teams could maintain the new rule next season, they also left it up to individual federations and leagues to decide and which led to the Premier League vote in which a return to the norm was ratified.

For clubs competing in Europe next season, this would have provided a perfect opportunity to hand out more domestic minutes to fringe players, gaining the ability to rest and rotate with more regularity.

In doing so, the ability to compete on multiple fronts would be preserved and the pursuit of silverware from September onwards becomes just that little easier. An ease which drew concerns from the other clubs within the division.

Although in theory each of the teams that compete in the Premier League have the same size squad (that being 25 registered players), there is squad depth at Chelsea and then there is squad depth at Burnley.

The overall number of Premier League substitutions may be the same but the latter will struggle to fulfil their quota with genuine top flight talent and, therefore, the more star names that can play a part on the pitch, the more the title challengers have to gain.

The advantage that was not as apparent at the end of last season would certainly have come to fruition over the course of 38 game season and the more opportunities for a big name striker to be thrown on, the more a result could be turned to their advantage.

Like so many other things within football, change is always viewed with an element of hesitancy and the addition of extra Premier League substitutions was certainly no different. However, with it being a temporary measure to start with, there was an element of acceptance.

The fear was always going to be that it became a permanent introduction by stealth and, once in place, a scaling back would prove impossible. Thankfully, an element of common sense has subsequently been deployed.

With fierce competition up and down the table being a principle that is so important, the last thing the league needs is to distort its parameters even further and in doing so, widen the chasm between the haves and have nots.

Of course, moving back to three substitutes will not dramatically level the playing field overnight but it will at least prevent the chasm from widening further and, although the Premier League cream will always rise to the top, they will now have to work harder in order to get there.



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