Top-flight clubs are allowed to make three substitutions per game within league rules.
However, the Premier League temporarily changed the rule in May 2020. Five substitutions were allowed following football’s shutdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
They opted to revert to three subs for last season. The procedure has stayed in place for this campaign as well.
But there has been fresh pressure on the league to change again as Covid-19 ravages through English football’s fixture schedule.
As far as the Premier League is concerned, 16 games have been called off throughout December. The latest fixture to fall was Newcastle’s trip to Everton on December 29.
Tuchel urges Premier League to move to five substitutes
One advocate for a change to five subs is Thomas Tuchel, with the German coach overseeing somewhat of an availability crisis at the Blues.
For their 0-0 draw against Wolves on December 19, Chelsea had a squad of just 16 players. Three of those were goalkeepers. Tuchel had to play winger Christian Pulisic in a central striking role, with Kai Havertz, Timo Werner and Romelu Lukaku all suffering from Covid.
The situation had eased somewhat for their Boxing Day trip to Aston Villa. Chelsea were able to name an almost full-strength XI. Lukaku came off the bench to score in the second half in a 3-1 win.
But that hasn’t stopped Tuchel from having significant concerns. He wants five substitutions to be brought back – and sees the rule as having a more substantial impact on clubs than schedule changes.
He explained (quotes as per The Guardian): “I absolutely cannot understand, zero per cent, why we are the only league who plays through winter, and we are the only league with three substitutes in a period of heavy, heavy Covid threat and situations.
“It makes absolutely zero sense. It is the situation, and that is worrying. The schedule is not the problem. We love the schedule.
“Five changes were invented in the UK when Covid first started. Now we are in the middle of it, I get the feeling that everybody is refusing it or refusing to think about it.”
Have other managers expressed similar concerns?
Brentford manager Thomas Frank took a similar stance to Tuchel in wanting to see five subs return. That is despite the Bees having one of the lowest budgets in the division.
Guardiola stated last week that five substitutions would better protect players during a busy fixture schedule.
Is player welfare becoming a big issue?
One point raised amid the current Covid-19 outbreak is the welfare and safety of players.
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson, for instance, is concerned that the Premier League isn’t doing enough where welfare is concerned.
With postponements occurring with regularity in the past two months, fixtures will inevitably pile up. Congestion becomes a big problem when it comes to teams playing on several fronts, like Liverpool.
He explained to BBC Sport: “I don’t think people can appreciate how intense it is until you actually see it first hand.
“That has been like this for a few years now and it has been difficult, but then, on top of that, you chuck in Covid and it becomes even harder and even worse. I am concerned that nobody really takes player welfare seriously.”
Whilst five substitutions wouldn’t directly address the root cause of these issues, they can give managers and players reassurance when it comes to injuries. By resting players for more prolonged periods, clubs can attempt to prevent injuries from occurring.
With some squads already threadbare in the Premier League, the change to five subs would at least go some way to easing concerns amongst clubs.
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