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Get Warmed Up: How Important Are Substitutions In Football?

October 23, 2015

- Grant Whittington

 

While substitutions are commonly accepted as key components of modern-day football, they are relatively undervalued from a tactical and strategic perspective. After all, substitutions can have a huge impact on the course of a game, whether they help teams to overturn a losing situation or inadvertently cause clubs to lose momentum and sacrifice a winning position. Occasionally, a lack of substitutions can also impact negatively a team’s chances of winning, as players fall prey to fatigue or the tactical proactivity of their rivals.

Substitutions and Success: How Important are in-game changes?

In terms of basic numbers, Opta recently commissioned a study that looked at every World Cup game that has taken place since 1998. More specifically, it appraised the in-game changes made during these games, and found that team trailing by a singly goal at half-time improved their chances of winning by between 24% and 40% by making a substitution. When you also consider that other changes may well have impeded the losing teams chances of winning, you begin to see how impactful substitutions can prove.

In the Premier League, there have been other studies conducted over the course of the last season. One of the most interesting focused on the approach of individual manager to making substitutions, covering 826 top flight games in the process. It found that a total of 2250 substitutions were made in total, with the majority of managers using all of their allotted three changes per game. As a general trend, it was interesting note that tactically aggressive managers such as Jose Mourinho, Louis van Gaal and Brendan Rodgers often used all of their changes, while others such as Burnley’s Sean Dyche leaving a staggering 30% of his allocation unused.

The Last Word

While Dyche’s lack of activity may be attributed to the lack of depth in Burnley’s squad last season, these figures underline that top flight manager’s place a considerable value on the importance of substitutions. These often hold the key to altering the momentum during a game, especially when they are used to implement strategic and tactical changes that alter shape and styles of play.

While Claudio Ranieri’s experience as Chelsea manager in the Champions League Semi-Final against Monaco in 2004 proved that substitutions can damage a sides chances of success, when used well they remain a crucial weapon is fighting fatigue, reacting to in-game developments and executing a positive tactical change.

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