Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has voiced his displeasure over the number of substitutions permitted per game in the Premier League dropping back to three this season.
Clubs were allowed to make up to five changes per game during ‘Project Restart’ in June and July as a result of the heavily congested fixture schedule. That could have carried on this season as IFAB lawmakers extended the temporary amendment to rules to cover the 2020/21 campaign.
However, it is at the discretion of individual leagues, competitions or national governing bodies whether to take advantage and allow five substitutions. Yet while the higher number is still permitted by UEFA in the Champions League and Europa League, Premier League clubs collectively voted it down at a meeting before the start of the new season.
There was a concern from smaller clubs that it would unfairly favour wealthier teams with deeper squads. What that argument does not take into account is the demands on those larger squads because of other competitions in the congested calendar.
On top of Premier League games at weekends, the likes of United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester City and Leicester are currently having to play every midweek due to European commitments.
It is worse still for those who also remain in the Carabao Cup.
“I don’t understand and cannot believe the vote went against [keeping five substitutions],” Solskjaer commented at a press briefing ahead of facing Arsenal on Sunday.
“This is the most demanding season of all,” he added.
“I can see why clubs voted against but if you take a step back and think about these professional footballers and their mental and physical health, the only sensible solution would have been to give us the opportunity to rest a few more.
“We have already seen loads of injuries in the Premier League. Pep [Guardiola] has spoken about it. We, as managers, clubs and medical staff, have to look after them. That’s why we have to rest players at certain times. I would have liked to have had five subs.”
Guardiola said last month, “When the argument is that it favours the top five or six, it is because the people don’t understand absolutely anything. [Big clubs] have games every three days, and there is a way just to protect the players.”
“We have 38 Premier League games in a four-weeks shorter season. That says it all,” he said. “And all the other competitions will be pretty much the same, as far as I know. That means just that these things would help. But I can imagine that other teams see it differently.”
Klopp stressed it is not about giving bigger clubs an advantage, but a way to simply ‘get through this season’ without suffering excessive or avoidable injuries.