The new Premier League season is now less than two weeks away, with Brentford starting the 2021/22 campaign in earnest when they entertain Arsenal at the Brentford Community Stadium on Friday, 13th August.
You can use this useful guide to see football betting explained in preparation for the new season, but to make truly informed selections you’ll need to understand any rule changes that will take place during the new season.
But what are the laws pertaining to substitutions in the new season, and how does this compare with similarly seminal leagues such as the Bundesliga.
Why are There Only Three Subs Allowed in the EPL
There was considerable controversy surrounding substitutions in the Premier League last season, following the emergency rule change made during the coronavirus pandemic.
When the league resumed in June 2020 following an enforced, three-month hiatus, EPL clubs were allowed to make five substitutions per game. This temporary rule was implemented in both the EFL and across all major European leagues, in order to cope with the increasingly frenetic schedule both domestically and abroad.
However, while all major European leagues retained this rule at the beginning of the 2020/21 season, EPL clubs twice voted this proposal down during the pre-season.
Then, a further vote conducted in December failed to meet the threshold of 14 votes in favour at another meeting of the 20 EPL clubs, despite the vociferous support of managers like Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola.
In fact, Liverpool Klopp labelled the switch back to five substitutions as a “necessity” for his overworked players, while Manchester City stalwart labelling the continuation of the three-sub limit as a “disaster”.
The issue has not been raised since, with the EPL continuing to allow just three substitutions per game ahead of the 2021/22 campaign.
Klopp singled out then Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder after the failed vote in December, claiming that he was the key opponent of the proposal. In Wilder’s defence, he was concerned that the five-sub rule would unfairly favour the leading EPL clubs with the biggest squads and resources, while leaving lesser sides less able to compete as the season progressed.
Of course, this season will allow EPL and EFL clubs to make concussed-based subs in instances where their players experience an in-game head injury. This effectively allows them an additional substitution, but this won’t be available unless a starting play suffers a definitive or suspected concussion.
What Approach has the Bundesliga Taken?
As one of the ‘big five’ European leagues, the Bundesliga has taken a significantly different approach to the EPL and one that has been copied throughout Europe.
To this end, the 36 clubs across the top two divisions in the Bundesliga agreed to keep the five substitution rule ahead of the 2020/21 season, while this will remain in place ahead of the new campaign starting in September.
The reasoning behind this is clear; with the league authorities suggesting that as the coronavirus remains endemic in Germany and across Europe, it makes sense to keep the same rule that accompanied the initial resumption in spring 2020.
It remains unclear whether the rule will eventually become a permanent fixture in top-flight football, but it’s certainly unlikely to change anytime soon in either the Bundesliga or similar leagues across the length-and-breadth of Europe.
In addition to the hygiene concept protocols that have remained in place since the outbreak of Covid, the substitution decision was unanimously confirmed by all Bundesliga 1 and Bundesliga 2 sides at a recent meeting.
With this rule also being retained for the Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League competitions for the 2021/22 season, it’s clear that the EPL remains the only elite-level competition that has reverted back to pre-Covid rules ahead of the new campaign.
The Last Word
It’s fair to say that the decision to revert back to three substitutions per game has been welcomed by smaller clubs, who are unable to call upon the same depth or quality of squad during the course of matches.
While returning to a three-sub rule may well tackle this issue directly and undermine any competitive advantage that may be gained by larger playing squads, however, the question that remains is whether it has been taken with the interests of players in mind?
After all, players such as Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes have barely had a break since the return of top-flight post the first coronavirus lockdown, with the impact of a diminished pre-season prior to 2020/21 being compounded by Euro 2020 and the upcoming World Cup 2022 in Qatar.
Remember, the latter tournament has also been brought forward to the winter of 2022 due to the summer conditions in Qatar, creating another busy and incredibly congested season.
As a result, the lack of substitutions could compound fitness issues in the EPL, while potentially impacting on the ability of England players to perform at the winter World Cup.