Premier League teams can now use five substitutes in each game, but how effectively has each manager been using these extra subs? We crunch the numbers from 2023-24 so far.

Every time football’s governors bring in a new rule change, an opportunity arises for managers and clubs to exploit it. The decision ahead of 2022-23 to change Premier League rules to allow teams to make five substitutions in each game was no different.

Now, past two thirds of the way through the following campaign, clubs have had a significant period of time to work out how best to use the additional two changes. We’ve sensed an opportunity here ourselves, too, and decided to take advantage by assessing each Premier League manager’s substitutions in 2023-24.

Who is making the most of the chance to make two extra changes every time their team plays? Who is sticking to the old limits of three subs? Which team’s subs are scoring and setting up the most goals? Which manager waits the longest to make a change? And why? (That’s ‘why are the managers taking that approach?’, not ‘why are Opta Analyst bothering to analyse this?’) Here, we’ve got all these questions covered, and more.

Most and Fewest Subs Used

Roberto De Zerbi is making more use of the extra substitutions than any other manager in the Premier League this season. The Brighton boss has used 133 of the 140 subs (95%) available to him in 28 games so far in 2023-24, and has used all five subs in 82.1% of Brighton’s games, which is way ahead of the second-highest in this regard (Fulham, 62.1%).

De Zerbi is averaging 4.8 substitutions per match, and has only stuck within the old limits of three subs in two games all season. Brighton drew both of those games – 2-2 at home to Liverpool and 0-0 at West Ham – with De Zerbi deciding on those two occasions to leave things be – unusually for him trusting the players on the pitch to see out the result. There have also only been three other games in which he has used ‘only’ four subs.

Bournemouth (90% of available subs used), Burnley (88.3%) and Fulham (88.3%) follow for the most subs used.

At the other end of the scale, Manchester City (55%) and West Ham (55.9%) have used the lowest proportion of subs available. Pep Guardiola and David Moyes seem to take a more cautious approach to using their replacements, both preferring to leave things be on the pitch rather than try to affect the game with a change – though likely for different reasons.

While Guardiola will always have 11 players on the pitch who could beat any team on the planet, Moyes may turn to his bench and decide he doesn’t have good enough options to bring on.

There have been only two occasions in the Premier League this season when a manager has chosen not to use a single substitute, and both of those were City. Guardiola stuck with his starting XI for the full 90 minutes for the 1-0 win over Newcastle in August and the 1-1 draw with Liverpool in November, when his starting players were unable to hold on to their one-goal lead.

Meanwhile, Moyes has chosen to use just one sub on four separate occasions, while the rest of the Premier League’s teams have done so just 10 times between them (three of which were Man City). West Ham have also only used all five subs on one occasion – in a 5-0 defeat at Fulham in December. That day, Moyes made two subs at 3-0 down and his final three at 4-0 down, perhaps wanting to make an example of the underperforming players on the pitch.

West Ham have also had the oldest substitutes bench on average this season, so maybe that is part of the reason Moyes hasn’t turned to his subs as much as others (more on that below).

Earliest Subs

Sheffield United rank 10th in the Premier League this season for total subs, having used 82.9% of their available substitutes, but they tend to act earlier than anyone else.

Likely because they have been conceding so many goals (they could break the all-time record in a Premier League season) and have been trailing for 48.4% of their total game time this season – the second-longest of all Premier League teams – their managers have decided an early change is needed more often than anyone else. Paul Heckingbottom and Chris Wilder have made Sheffield United’s first change, on average, after just 48 minutes this season – the earliest first sub in the top flight.

Brighton (52 mins), Burnley, Bournemouth, Tottenham and Wolves (all 55) are next in the rankings for earliest sub.

Brighton manager De Zerbi has made more early changes than anyone else, though, with 26 substitutions either in the first half or at half-time. Sheffield United (23) are second in this column, with no other team having made more than 15.

West Ham’s first sub has come on 66 minutes on average – the latest in the Premier League this season – again suggesting Moyes is on the cautious side of things. They are followed by Everton (63 mins), Crystal Palace (62) and Brentford (61). Arsenal, Fulham and Manchester City all make their first sub, on average, on the hour mark.

City have made only five changes before the start of the second half this season, with Guardiola having less reason than anyone else – be that injuries or game state – to make an early alteration.

Most Effective Subs

De Zerbi doesn’t just lead the Premier League for quantity of subs made; his changes have also been effective, with his subs providing more goals (12) than any other team in the top flight in 2023-24, ahead of Liverpool, Arsenal and Newcastle (all 11). Nobody has scored more substitute goals this season than Brighton’s João Pedro (4). You can read more on the Premier League’s best individual substitutes this season here.

Brighton also lead the league for shots (88), expected goals (10.5), touches in the opposition box (206), and big chances (15) by substitutes. Their replacements have played a crucial role in their season so far.

Goals and chances don’t (always) come out of nowhere, though. Sometimes they need creating.

Liverpool’s subs have also provided 11 assists, with their total of 22 goal involvements by substitutes by a distance the most in the Premier League this season. It is also just two shy of the Premier League record in a season (currently held by Manchester City’s title-winning class of 2011-12), giving Liverpool 10 games to provide three more goal involvements by subs to break the record.

Premier League Sub Goal Involvements

Possibly an indication of a lack of attacking depth as much as anything is the fact that Crystal Palace’s subs have scored just one goal all season. West Ham are bottom for goal involvements by subs, though, with just three all season.

Meanwhile, Burnley (6) and Everton (7) rank among the worst-performing teams for goal involvements from subs despite introducing more attacking players – 60 and 57 respectively – than any other team. Perhaps both sides need more strength in depth up top.

Oldest/Youngest Subs

Mauricio Pochettino has been keen to stress since coming in as manager that Chelsea are a work in progress. This is a project that needs time and patience, he has insisted. The fact that the players on their bench have been significantly younger than any other team in the Premier League this season backs up what the Argentine has been saying.

With their replacement players averaging 22 years and 100 days old, Chelsea’s bench has been nearly two years younger than anyone else’s. Pochettino has had little experience to call upon from his bench all season and, even though Chelsea have spent a lot of money on expensive young players with very high ceilings, injuries have left them without many important players for much of the campaign.

West Ham (28 years, 251 days) have had the oldest bench on average, but experience hasn’t particularly helped Moyes. As we have seen already, he is barely making any changes, and his subs are also having less impact in front of goal than those of any other team.

Affected Most by Opposition Subs

Looking at the other side of the coin, it is possible to see which teams have been affected most by opposition changes.

Crystal Palace have seen opposing subs score 13 goals this season – three more than anyone else – and provide nine assists – also three more than anyone else. This, combined with their own lack of impact from the bench, points towards too little depth in their squad and an inability to see out games late on. It may also reflect badly on now-sacked Roy Hodgson, who clearly didn’t change games for the better with his substitutions.

Sheffield United (16), Brentford (15) and Brighton (14) – three teams who have been proactive with their own substitutes this season – rank next in the list for most goal involvements by opposition subs, suggesting their own changes might not always be for the best.

Meanwhile, no team have allowed their opponents’ substitutes fewer goals or assists in the Premier League this season than relegation-threatened Nottingham Forest (six). They concede a fair few goals and have lost 16 games this season, suggesting things have often already been beyond them when opponents are making changes.

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