Premier League clubs voted this week to reduce the number of substitutes permitted per game in the 2020/21 season.
Having been increased to five in the post-lockdown period, it has reverted to three. There may be a few effects for United heading into the new season.
There is a perception that the ‘big clubs’ benefit from having more players on the bench and being able to use more substitutes.
This may have played out over the course of a whole season, but during the short six-week recent Premier League stretch, any advantage was hard to quantify.
United did use all five substitutes in the draw with Tottenham as we fought back. It enabled us to replace Victor Lindelof late as he picked up an injury, while Nemanja Matic was able to come on and influence the game.
In the next match against Sheffield United, the decision to use all five substitutes at once was superfluous, with the game already won.
What the rule does do in theory is reduce the number of minutes players are asked to play. United tried to give rest to Bruno Fernandes and co where possible by taking key players off early, if games were already won.
Next season United may regret not being able to do this so often, but any ‘advantage’ would only have offset the disadvantage we face against clubs due to our Champions League involvement.
United face starting the season late because of this summer’s Europa League involvement. This will lead to a congested fixture list.
The busy fixture list will have helped build a case from United’s perspective for extra substitutes to be permitted.
Instead the three substitute rule underlines that United have to shape their squad correctly this summer.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer showed he did not have faith in his back-up stars during the recent Premier League run. The first choice XI were pushed to the limit.
United’s objective this summer is to close the gap between the first team starters and second choice, and make rotation feel more natural and less noticeable.
Unlike the group stages of the Europa League, United will need to pick a first choice XI in the Champions League group stages this season.
No signings have been made just yet, but they will have to be. Solskjaer needs to believe that he has quality squad depth he can use, and so more effectively rotate his players.
One of the effects of the changes is that matchday squads will now go down from 20 players to 18.
This makes life harder for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in trying to keep everybody happy.
Jesse Lingard for instance failed to make the 20-man squad in five of the last nine games.
His chances will get even tougher if United strengthen, and only 18 players can be included next season.
This will lead to more young players being loaned out. While United could perhaps have justified keeping James Garner and sneaking him onto the bench as the 20th man once every three weeks, this looks even more unlikely now.
Garner, Tahith Chong, and Ethan Laird are among the players who could benefit from loans to the Championship, and the reduction in substitutes and matchday squad numbers makes United’s decision more straightforward.
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