By Dr. Martin Buchheit, Maxime Settembre, Adrien Tarascon, Dr. Karim Hader, Adam Stokes, Dr. Allan Munro, Dr. Derek McHugh and Raymond Verheijen
It’s often said that while substitutions can solve a problem (i.e., player’s fatigue), they can also introduce a new one (i.e., poorer communication between players that did not prepare or at least start the match together) (Verheijen 2022)1. In fact, while maintaining the same quad on the pitch for 90 min can be seen as optimal for overall match performance when things go well (i.e., which favours better between-player communication), substitutions are often necessary to maintain game pace when players are getting tired over the course of a match. For these reasons, deciding on when and how many players to substitute during a match is a key question for every manager (Clayfield 2022)2.
Study Reveals First-Ever Findings on Players substitutions
Overall, we found that up until the season 2018/2019, the number of substitutions per team (i.e., 2-3) tended to be similar between all leagues, and clearly stable across time.
Substitution numbers then moved up to 4.5 after the COVID pandemic, except in the EPL, where the rotation number remained around three (as per the league-specific regulation).
There was no clear difference between home vs. away matches in terms of substitutions.
Overall the data suggest that when coaches can make substitutions, they do so. However there appears to be some small effect of scoreline results and match dynamic that may affect the actual number of substitutions.
There was a trend for a higher proportion of observations with low (i.e., 0 or 1) vs. maximum (i.e. 3) substitutions numbers when the goal difference was equal to zero (i.e., draw), especially in the case of 0-0 or 1-1 scores.
- Verheijen R. Tactical principles. Methodological steps within tactical principles during team building process. Football Coach Evolution. June 2022.
- Clayfield, B. Number of Substitutions in Soccer (And Reason for the Limit). Yoursoccerhome blog, accessed Feb 28, 2023.