Manchester City were knocked out of the Carabao Cup by West Ham on Wednesday night, not only a blow to their silverware ambitions but also to the prospect of handing valuable minutes to young players and fringe squad members.
However, a decision reached at a recent meeting of the International FA Board (IFAB) could help City maintain their position at the top of English football’s hierarchy.
A proposal to permanently allow teams to make five substitutions per game was supported by IFAB, the game’s lawmakers. Moving from three substitutions to five will be at the discretion of individual competition organisers, although Europe’s top leagues have all made the switch since five substitutions were allowed on a temporary basis post-COVID.
Well, all of Europe’s top leagues except one: the Premier League.
England’s top flight allowed five substitutions during Project Restart, but scrapped it for the start of 2020/21. In December 2020, the 14-club threshold needed to support the reintroduction of the rules was not met.
The likes of Pep Guardiola and Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp strongly voiced their support for five subs.
“This is ridiculous. This is why there are injuries”, Guardiola said of only being able to make three changes. “Every three days a game, without any preparation, no pre-season. Maybe one day the big bosses will explain why?”
The recent IFAB decision will likely put pressure on the Premier League to change its position. After all, it stands alone in Europe – arguably handing a key advantage to rival Champions League contenders across the continent. If that happens, then player fitness would not be the only benefit for City.
Deep runs in the Carabao Cup – City have won the past four editions and before Wednesday had not been eliminated since 2016 – have afforded opportunities for young players to gain valuable first-team experience. The cup was Phil Foden’s main stage for a couple of years, providing a platform for him to push for involvement in Premier League and European games.
Cole Palmer would have likely done the same this season, after starting against West Ham and impressing. With two extra substitutions allowed in league fixtures, he would be able to make up those lost cup minutes.
With the Carabao off the table, more substitutions would also keep City’s out-of-favour players relatively happy and involved. One of City’s weapons is their strength in depth, but towards the tail end of last season a number of first team players were unhappy with their game time.
There is a fine balance to be struck between playing your best team in the toughest games and making sure their replacements aren’t becoming disillusioned on the sidelines.
Last season, Aymeric Laporte could not displace either Ruben Dias or John Stones in Guardiola’s first choice XI. It was in the Carabao Cup and FA Cup that he found the consistent game time to stay both mentally and technically sharp. In the Carabao Cup final win against Tottenham, he scored the only goal of the game.
This season, Stones finds himself in a similar situation. Laporte has been one of City’s standout performers, meaning that Stones’ made only his second appearance of the season on Wednesday.
He won’t have the chance to play in the Carabao Cup like Laporte did, but if things go City’s way, he could find himself making substitute appearances in the Premier League. With three substitutions available, Guardiola isn’t going to waste one on bringing on a centre-back, but with five, he has more flexibility.
The same can be said of all the City’s players who currently find themselves out of Pep’s preferred XI – namely Raheem Sterling, Nathan Ake, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Riyad Mahrez.
Squad morale and harmony is an underrated ingredient in City’s recipe for success; they can’t aim to win a treble with only 11 happy players.
If the Premier League allows five substitutions to be made, then City’s quest for silverware will receive a welcome boost.
Do you think that City would benefit from being able to make five substitutions per game? Follow City Is Ours writer Alex Brotherton on Twitter to join the conversation and let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.Internet Explorer Channel Network