Having originally looked like an effort to aid Premier League squads as the season extended into the summer months, IFAB confirmed recently that the five substitutes per game ruling would still be implemented into next season.
The announcement will come as a huge blow to the so-called ‘lesser sides’ in England’s top tier, with clubs possessing deeper and more quality-laden squads gaining a clear advantage at the prospect of being able to field 16 different players in any given game.
Over the past few seasons, the gap between the top and bottom sides has begun to grow, with teams such as Manchester City and Liverpool recording roughly a century of points in recent seasons. The ruling will offer no comfort to sides with smaller squads that said gap can be bridged, and Manchester City’s clash with relegation-threatened Bournemouth on Wednesday evening further underlined that fact.
With an embarrassment of riches at his disposal from the bench, Pep Guardiola was able to call upon the services of Raheem Sterling and Rodri, with his side 2-0 up and perhaps with one eye on Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final with Arsenal.
However, as the game entered the last 15 minutes, the Cherries began to get a foothold in the game and were within a centimetre of Josh King’s big toe of halving the deficit.
Clearly wary of the threat the visitors were posing, Guardiola was able to turn to Ukraine international Oleksandr Zinchenko and £60m man Riyad Mahrez. In comparison, Eddie Howe’s last throws of the dice saw the introduction of a loanee in the shape of Harry Wilson and 21-year-old Sam Surridge.
The Cherries’ unused substitutes on the night included Jack Simpson (who has just ten Premier League appearances to his name) and 33-year-old Andrew Surman. Meanwhile, Guardiola chose to overlook Kevin De Bruyne and Aymeric Laporte – the gulph in class is huge.
Not only do additional subs allow the bigger teams to introduce players with more quality than their opposition, it also offers managers the opportunity to rejig their formation should the match take an unexpected turn.
At 2-0 up City looked home and hosed with three points in the bag against Howe’s men, with Guardiola looking to rest key players ahead of the weekend’s semi-final.
However, as the visitors grew into the game, Guardiola was able to have a rethink and amend his tactics, bringing on the extra quality he clearly felt at one stage they could get by without.
Had City not been able to make two further subs on top of the usual three, Bournemouth had a real chance of taking something away from the Etihad, though the late changes allowed City to take the sting out of the game and stutter their way to three points.
Some clubs have multi-billionaire owners and some don’t – that can’t be helped. However, if the Premier League are looking to try and level the playing field as much as possible, the permanent introduction of five subs-per-game is a huge step backwards.