Jürgen Klopp was a big supporter of introducing the five-sub rule in the Premier League, and he is taking full advantage of being able to change his players around. We look at the numbers behind Liverpool’s goal-hungry substitutes.

The Premier League was the last of the big European football leagues to introduce the rule allowing teams to make up to five substitutions in a game when they did so at the start of the 2022-23 season.

It had briefly been permitted in England’s top flight for the remainder of the 2019-20 campaign during the COVID-19 pandemic, but by the start of the following season the Premier League had reverted back to just three subs.

Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp had called it a “necessity” to go back to five, despite other clubs repeatedly voting against it until they finally relented two years ago.

“You have to ask other people. There were 10 clubs who voted against it,” Klopp said in 2020, two years before five subs were eventually permitted. “It was not about advantages, only player welfare. [It was] only them [who] voted against it in Europe, in the world.”

The Liverpool manager was clearly an advocate of allowing five subs to be made, and it’s fair to say he has made hay while the sun has shone since he’s been allowed to do so.

Darwin Núñez’s dramatic 99th-minute winner at Nottingham Forest last Saturday was Liverpool’s 43rd goal involvement by a substitute in all competitions this season, and their 22nd in the Premier League. Dominik Szoboszlai added a 44th in all competitions in their 5-1 UEFA Europa League demolition of Sparta Prague on Thursday evening.

Szoboszlai’s goal was the 22nd scored by a substitute for Liverpool in all competitions this season – now the most sub goals ever for Liverpool in a single campaign, overtaking the 21 in 2005-06.

Not only did Núñez’s goal at the weekend keep Klopp’s men top of the Premier League table, it took Liverpool to within two goals of the competition record for goal involvements by substitutes in a season. Only Manchester City in 2011-12 (24) and Arsenal in 2009-10 (23) have had more goal involvements from subs in a single Premier League campaign.

With 11 games remaining, it would be surprising if Liverpool didn’t break that record by some margin, though of course Man City and Arsenal’s totals came in seasons where they could only make up to three changes per game.

Eleven of those goal involvements have been assists, which is already the joint-most in Premier League history along with Leicester City in 2019-20.

Just looking at league games, Liverpool are not only four goal involvements ahead of the next most by an English team (Arsenal – 18) but are top of the pile across all five big leagues. They sit one goal involvement ahead of Atalanta (21), and five ahead of Atlético Madrid, Girona, Roma and Cagliari (17).

It’s not too much of a surprise to see Italian teams near the top of the list. An incredible 19.3% of goals in Serie A this season (excluding own goals) have been scored by subs, with Italian sides also making the most substitutions on average (4.7 per game).

In the Premier League this season, 13.8% of goals (excluding own goals) have been scored by subs, the most in the competition’s history and slightly up on the 12.7% from last season, which suggests managers are starting to get a better understanding of how they can use five substitutes per game to their advantage.

Liverpool’s potency has not just been due to an increase in Klopp’s usage of subs. He is making 4.5 subs per game on average this season in all competitions, the same as last season, though in the league it’s narrowly up to 4.4 from 4.3. In the Premier League this season, only Brighton (128) and Burnley (122) have used more subs than Liverpool’s 119, while only four teams used more last season.

By contrast, Manchester City have used the fewest this season with just 74. Arsenal have made 112.

Liverpool’s subs haven’t just been there to make up the numbers; they’ve made crucial contributions. Núñez’s goal at Forest was the latest Premier League winner Liverpool have scored in the competition’s history (98 minutes, 37 seconds) and was the third time the Reds have scored a winning goal in added time in the league this season. On the previous two occasions, the scorer of the goal was also a substitute (Núñez vs Newcastle, Harvey Elliott vs Crystal Palace).

The difference between Liverpool’s first half and second half performances this season in the league has been quite stark, and again shows how much of a difference Klopp’s changes are making.

They have been leading at the break in just nine of their 27 games so far, fewer than even Brighton (11) and West Ham (10), while they have been level on 14 occasions. Only Everton (16), Crystal Palace, Nottingham Forest and Chelsea (all 15) have been tied at half time more often. Arsenal (30), Aston Villa (29), Manchester City (25) and Newcastle United (24) have all scored more than their 22 first-half goals, too.

However, in the second half of games they have outscored their opponents in 20 of their 27 games, at least two more than anyone else. They have also scored at least four more second-half goals (42) than any other team.

In all competitions, there is quite a gap opening as Liverpool have also been utilising subs well in cup games. Their 44 goal involvements from substitutes overall is 15 more than the next most from Europe’s big five leagues (Atlético Madrid – 29).

Sub Goal Involvements in All Competitions 2023-24

It is a dramatic improvement already on last season, when Liverpool only had 24 goal involvements from substitutes in all competitions.

When just looking at goals by subs in all competitions by teams in Europe’s top five leagues, Liverpool have scored 21, at least six more than any other.

Most sub goals top 5 leagues 23-24

The impact of Núñez at the City Ground on Saturday was arguably the perfect example of what Klopp is getting from his eager subs. The Uruguayan is known for imposing himself on games and he did just that despite only coming on in the 60th minute. As well as scoring the winning goal, he had five shots – at least three more than any player apart from Luis Díaz (six), who played the whole game – while only Díaz (12) had more touches in the opposition box than his six.

Núñez’s five shots was the joint-most attempted in a Premier League game by a substitute this season, along with Luis Sinisterra for Bournemouth vs Newcastle, Keane Lewis-Potter for Brentford vs Luton Town, and Kaoru Mitoma for Brighton vs Burnley.

It’s not just his ability to utilise a star-studded squad; in recent games Klopp has mostly had to fill his bench with players who could easily be confused for ball boys (Jayden Danns literally was one at Anfield only two years ago), but that has not stopped them from having an impact.

In the recent EFL Cup final win over Chelsea, it was bringing on fresh-legged youngsters Danns, Bobby Clark, James McConnell and Jarell Quansah that helped see them over the line at Wembley.

Danns then came off the bench three days later to score his first two goals for the senior side as Liverpool beat Southampton 3-0 in the FA Cup fifth round.

That was one of six instances of Liverpool players coming off the bench to record two goal involvements in a game this season, along with Núñez vs Newcastle (Premier League), Trent Alexander-Arnold vs West Ham (EFL Cup), Núñez vs Fulham (EFL Cup), Mohamed Salah vs Brentford (Premier League), and Cody Gakpo from the same game.

So far, 15 players have registered a goal involvement after coming on as a substitute, with Núñez leading the way with eight (four goals, four assists). Gakpo has six (three goals, three assists) while Salah (four goals, one assist) and Diogo Jota (three goals, two assists) have five apiece.

Most sub goal involvements top 5 leagues 23-24

Klopp has used 34 players in all competitions this season, with 31 of those coming on as a substitute at least once. Harvey Elliott has made the most sub appearances with 18, ahead of Núñez and Gakpo with 15 each.

Some managers of teams with fewer resources accused Klopp of wanting five subs introduced so he could take further advantage of the vast array of talent available to him, while he insisted it was merely to allow him greater opportunity to protect his players from the ever-increasing number of minutes they were spending on the pitch.

Whatever the reason, the German coach is using his subs expertly and it could be the difference come the end of what is shaping up to be a spectacular Premier League title race.

With Klopp leaving Anfield at the end of the season, Liverpool fans are bound to fear change right now. When it comes to in-game this season though, they can trust that change is quite likely to be a good thing.

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