The Premier League debate regarding the five-sub rule went up a notch over the weekend as Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp shared a heated exchange with BT Sport’s Des Kelly.
Klopp responded to a question from Kelly on James Milner’s hamstring injury by saying “congratulations” in a dig at the fixture list being built around TV broadcast schedules. When Kelly sought to clarify what Klopp meant by the comment, the German added: “Hamstring, surprise, and they [Brighton] had injuries but ask Chris Wilder how we can avoid that.
“I don’t know how often I have to say it, you picked the 12:30 PM, not you personally, but you did it, us on 12:30 PM, between now and December and New Year, one more Wednesday.”
BT question: "James Milner, hamstring is it?"
Klopp: "Yeah, congratulations."
BT interviewer: "Me personally?"
Klopp: "No but you work for them yeah? Hamstring. Surprise. And they had injuries as well because it's a tough time."
— James Nalton (@JDNalton) November 28, 2020
Klopp has been the most vocal supporter of bringing back the five-sub rule, and on that specific issue, he continued: “When we had the talk between the managers a week ago now, I think, it was 15-5, maybe 16-4, for five subs now.
“Since then, nothing happened because you need 14 votes, because Chris Wilder says constantly I’m selfish, so I think all of the things he’s said shows that he’s selfish but it’s not too important. I was in a similar position that he is when I was at Mainz when it was all about staying in the league.
“If you can’t do five subs, for example, if we had five subs today, I take off Robbo and bring Kostas on to save Robbo, not to make our game better, just to save him and that’s the situation. It’s not about changing tactics, or the system, all this kind of thing, it’s not like this. It’s just to save the players. From now on, we will see what happens.”
Klopp’s position is clear: the five-sub rule was there to help the players and must return. But what do the other 19 Premier League managers think?
Mikel Arteta (Arsenal)
Mikel Arteta backed the return of the five-sub rule at the start of November, saying he would “strongly support” the decision not only to protect his players, but also to allow the Premier League to give the fans the “best show possible”.
More recently, the Spanish tactician has once again urged his counterparts to push the rule over the line, insisting Premier League players are in need of more physical and mental help.
“We have to protect (players) as much as possible, they are the protagonists in this industry,” Arteta said prior to Arsenal’s 0-0 draw with Leeds United.
“We have to modify the rules and make them a little more flexible to give them a better opportunity to be fit, physically and mentally. Let’s just do it, please.”
Dean Smith (Aston Villa)
Dean Smith was against the introduction of the five-sub rule when it was originally brought in over the summer, airing the views of other managers of supposed mid-table or lower Premier League clubs when he said it would favour those with “bigger” squads.
“I wasn’t for it. I just believe we started the season with certain rules and now we have changed it. I suppose it helps the clubs with the bigger squads,” he said in June.
“There was talk to change it because there is more risk of injury but having more subs doesn’t help that. I just wanted it to stay as it was. I think Sheffield United were the same.
“Having five subs gives us the chance to rotate the squad during the game. It is like being away in a World Cup camp and playing a mini-tournament.”
Smith’s stance hasn’t changed much since, which is not surprising given that Villa have made the fewest substitutions (15) of any Premier League club so far this season. He did, however, admit he’d be willing to change his mind if his players raised fitness concerns to him or better evidence for the rule was put forward.
“I am still of that mind,” he said earlier in November. “I can only go off my players and the football club, I’ve spoken to them and I want to look after them and make sure their welfare is good. I’m speaking to them all the time and they have no problem at the moment.
“We had four games in eight days, which is a hell of a lot, but we’ve also had eight weeks off between March and June.
“If there’s a player welfare issue then I’m all for changing it. I would have to see a trend in the data that suggests there is an issue. I’d support that but until then I’m happy to stick with three subs.”
Graham Potter (Brighton And Hove Albion)
Unlike many of the managers around him in the league table, Brighton boss Graham Potter has been a strong advocate of the five-sub rule. The Seagulls managed a draw against Liverpool recently and Potter was sympathetic toward Klopp’s point of view in the build-up to that game.
“We were asked to vote about how we can make the problem a little bit easier,” he said. “It seemed like five subs was the sensible thing to do, bearing in mind we did that at the back end of last year.
“You look at this season and think it’s a shorter season, the internationals are going to play more because there are more games in the break.
“We’re going into winter so there is more chance of catching Covid, there might be more positive tests and more isolation, it will be a bigger push on players.
“The fact that we’re in lockdown means that from a mental health perspective, if you’ve got a lot of players from overseas, they won’t see their family, they’re here to play football and that can be quite challenging.
“There’s lots of things going on and that’s why I thought the five subs rule was quite a sensible one to alleviate the problem.”
Potter refused to be drawn on the issue of fixture scheduling: “I am not the guy who knows how much the TV companies pay for them. I don’t know how much they pay for a 12:30 PM kick-off.”
Sean Dyche (Burnley)
When the five-subs rule was introduced for the “Project Restart” phase of last season, Burnley made the fewest number of substitutions of any Premier League club and were one of three sides not to make use of the rule change at all.
“I think it quite obviously favours the big clubs because they can keep more players happy and more players involved by making more changes,” Sean Dyche said of the rule at the time.
This season, only Villa have made fewer substitutions than the Clarets. Although Dyche has remained quiet on the situation, his lack of activity from the bench would suggest his position on the matter hasn’t changed.
Frank Lampard (Chelsea)
Frank Lampard accused the Premier League of “dropping the ball” when they ditched the five-sub rule in the first place and the Chelsea boss hasn’t changed his mind since, recently calling for the issue to be readdressed.
“I think it is something we have to address again with the clubs. The circumstances have not changed since we had five subs at the start of restart,” said the former England international.
The reason that maybe managers aren’t making three subs is because if you have 10 players fearful of tiredness, there is a danger zone to make a third substitute in case of an injury.
“My main concern is player welfare, they are under incredible stress, especially those playing in Europe.
“I don’t want anyone to cry their eyes out for players, we all know how lucky we are, but everywhere else has five subs so we have to revisit this in my opinion.”
Roy Hodgson (Crystal Palace)
Roy Hodgson said he would vote against the continuation of the five-sub rule back in July, throwing his weight behind the view that it would offer an unfair advantage to some of the Premier League’s bigger clubs.
The former England boss appears to be softening his stance on the matter, although he still maintains he would vote against the rule again if it came to it, for the same reasons he did so in the first place.
“At the time, when we were asked, we didn’t think it was an advantage for a club like ours to have five subs. But, of course, it is a massive advantage for the clubs at the top of the league,” Hodgson said.
He added: “I will not be one who tries to back up any campaign you might have to try to get five subs back on the board again, but if five subs does come back on board again and if that is what the Premier League decides, then we will be fine.”
Carlo Ancelotti (Everton)
Carlo Ancelotti has taken a very different position on the five-sub rule. The Italian believes the change would make very little difference to player welfare, instead backing Klopp’s view that the fixture schedule needs a big reshuffle and calling on managers to better rotate their squads on a game-to-game basis.
“On the welfare of the players, it doesn’t change a lot between three and five,” Ancelotti said in mid-November. “If you want to rotate a player, you can rest him at the beginning.
“It could be in my opinion good because at the moment no-one is taking care of the welfare of the players. Everything we are going to do for the welfare of the players will be important.
“I am for three substitutions but, I said, if five can help for the health of the players then we can have five, no problem.
“It’s quite clear that five substitutions is an advantage for the teams that have a bigger squad but the problem, now, is the welfare of the players and everyone has to understand this.”
On the fixture schedule heading into the festive period, he added: “The welfare of the players will also be to have a different fixture schedule to avoid games in this period. This is a really special period and a really difficult period.”
Scott Parker (Fulham)
Despite having the largest squad size (32) according to Transfermarkt, Fulham boss Scott Parker voted against the five-sub rule. However, like Dean Smith, the former Chelsea midfielder is open to changing his mind on the matter, should the right evidence be put forth.
“Five subs will probably not benefit us as much as what it would do the top clubs,” said Parker earlier this month. “Obviously, the big one being brought up is the wellbeing.
“We had a vote at the beginning of this season, and that vote was clearly in favour of three subs. We have enough data to look at whether there is an incline in injuries, whether there is an issue with wellbeing in players — and if that is the case then I’ll be the first to say I understand.”
Marcelo Bielsa (Leeds United)
Marcelo Bielsa has made a total of 27 substitutions in the Premier League this season and is never afraid to make an early change to gain dominance on the pitch. However, in typical fashion, the Argentine tactician has remained coy about his view on the five-sub rule. Leeds United were reportedly against the change, but Bielsa hasn’t made an outright statement on the subject.
Brendan Rodgers (Leicester City)
Brendan Rodgers was publicly against the continuation of the five-subs rule at the end of last season, like so many others, claiming it offered an advantage to the Premier League’s bigger clubs. The former Liverpool boss also believes it takes away from the coaching aspect of the game, making it easier for managers to change matters on the pitch with a personnel change, rather than a tactical switch.
That being said, Rodgers is another reportedly open to changing his mind based on evidence.
Pep Guardiola (Manchester City)
Pep Guardiola has arguably been Klopp’s biggest ally in this war of words between managers. Following the final whistle of Manchester City’s 1-1 draw with Liverpool earlier in November, the two managers were seen engaging in an extended conversation before heading down the tunnel, with Guardiola revealing that rather than talking about the result, he was talking to the Liverpool boss about the “fight” for five substitutions.
“We didn’t speak about the result. We spoke about how we need to fight again and again for five substitutions,” the City boss said.
“Look, an international England player, Trent Alexander-Arnold, he’s injured. All around the world, there are five substitutions. But here we believe we are more special people and [use] just three players. We don’t protect the players.
“That’s why it’s a disaster with this calendar. I will demand, if the people allow my voice, to come back with five substitutions. It will help the players, the managers and everywhere to do it. If not it’s difficult to sustain it.”
Interestingly, Guardiola has made the third-lowest number of substitutions (19) of any Premier League manager this season, although that could be attributed to a fear of picking up an injury after all three of his changes have been made.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (Manchester United)
Across Manchester, United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has backed Guardiola and Klopp, revealing his shock at the five-sub rule being voted down at the end of October and insisting those in the game have a responsibility to protect players both physically and mentally.
“I don’t understand and cannot believe that the vote went against that because we have to look after the players and think about the players,” Solskjaer said.
“This season is the most demanding season of all. I can see the point why clubs voted against but if you take a step back and think about these professional footballers and their mental and physical health the only sensible solution would have been to give us the opportunity to rest a few more.
“We have already seen loads of injuries in the Premier League. Pep [Guardiola] has been talking about it, other managers too. We as managers, as clubs, as medical staff, we have to look after them, that’s why we have to rest players at certain times. So, yeah, I would have liked to have had five subs.”
Solskjaer also went on record in early December to claim that his side were “set up to fail” when they played on Saturday following a midweek trip to Turkey for a Champions League fixture.
Steve Bruce (Newcastle United)
Steve Bruce was supportive of the introduction of five substitutes back in May but the Newcastle United boss’ opinion seems to have swung the other way as he recently revealed he was one of the managers who voted against the rule. The former Manchester United centre-back didn’t criticise the rule, but did insist it won’t make a difference to player fatigue.
“I was one that voted against it,” he said. “I understand the clamour for five subs but I don’t think it’s the real reason players are fatigued. The real reason is the amount of games so quickly.”
Chris Wilder (Sheffield United)
The blue touchpaper was lit with Wilder accusing Klopp and the Premier League’s other “top” managers of being “selfish”.
“Cards on the table, [Klopp] is going to look after his own club,” the Blades boss said. “I’ve got incredible respect for these top managers because they produce top results and win things.
“But they’re selfish, they look after their own clubs. They’re not going to be bothered about Sheffield United, they’re not going to be bothered about England.”
Wilder went on to say he “understands and respects” the likes of Klopp and Guardiola looking after their own. However, Klopp clearly took Wilder’s comments without a pinch of salt, calling out the Sheffield United manager during his exchange with Kelly. In response, Wilder reaffirmed his loyalty to Bramall Lane, so you can safely assume he remains against the five-sub rule.
“Everybody has that right to [defend their own club’s view],” he said. “There is 20 votes in this league and everybody looks after himself right the way through.
“Nobody is looking after Sheffield United the right way now, so we have to look after ourselves. I am not really going into the nuts and bolts of what was said.
“I have got a huge amount of respect for Liverpool Football Club, as I always have done. I also have a huge amount of respect for Jurgen.
“Whether it is looking after the football club, whether it is selfish or another word. By the way, there are a few more managers in there as well that have looked after their own club. I will always look after Sheffield United.”
Ralph Hasenhuttl (Southampton)
Ralph Hasenhuttl was originally an advocate for five substitutions but only ended up using it once after Project Restart last season.
This term, he has made the sixth-lowest number of substitutions (25) but although he now agrees with the likes of Wilder and Dyche that the rule offers an advantage to clubs with bigger squads, he would have no problem with it making a return for the rest of 2020/21.
“I was happy when in the summer they changed it to having five subs,” Hasenhuttl said. “The crazy thing is, I didn’t use it very often, even if we could, and I don’t really think that it avoids injuries, because one fact is for me clear.
“When you have five subs the game doesn’t slow down, in the end it speeds up again. So that means it causes problems for the guys who are still on the pitch.
“Normally everybody is getting tired at the end of the game, and the game slows a little bit down. I don’t think it protects you from injuries.”
Jose Mourinho (Tottenham Hotspur)
No Premier League team has made more substitutions than Tottenham (30) this season and with Europa League commitments adding to their fixture pile-up, you’d expect Jose Mourinho to back his fellow elite managers in reviving the five-sub rule.
However, the Spurs boss is rather nonplussed on the issue as a whole, believing it makes little difference to the fitness and wellbeing of the players. Mourinho does, however, want bigger matchday squads.
“What I think, I don’t think is important,” the Portuguese tactician said. “For a long time, it is difficult to understand why we travel with 20-21 players and then two or three of them have to stay out.
“I would say that we all – managers in every level and division – would love to have more players involved. Also for the question of being a leader of a group of a squad, we would all love to go in the direction of all the other countries where instead of seven players on the bench you can have nine or 10. That’d be great for everybody.
“[On] the number of substitutions, I understand different perspectives. I’m OK with three, I’m OK with five. In the majority of times, I use three. If I have the possibility to make four or five, it would be better. Yeah, it would be better. But that doesn’t mean I would use the fourth or the fifth.
“Some clubs think the powerful squads have an advantage to make five substitutions, but sometimes the powerful squads don’t make even two, they make only one. So there’s space for different opinions. I’m OK with any decision.”
Slaven Bilic (West Brom)
Like Mourinho, Slaven Bilic has made a league-high 30 substitutions so far this season (along with Spurs and Arsenal) but unlike the Portuguese, he is very much an advocate for the rule’s return. The Croatian believes the ability to make five changes would have a positive impact on player welfare across the league, not just at ‘elite’ clubs or those competing in Europe.
“It would benefit every club, in the sense of the welfare of the players,” the West Brom boss said. “The schedule now, especially for the teams who are playing in Europe, it’s hard and difficult. And then you have international games.
“It would help to keep the health of the players. We spoke about it as managers, for two or three hours in a meeting on Wednesday. For me, the Premier League must decide.
“I think that the welfare of the players is the most important thing. It isn’t only for Liverpool or Man City.”
David Moyes (West Ham United)
David Moyes was against the five-sub rule in the summer but has now admitted he believes he made a mistake when evaluating its impact on the game. The West Ham boss says he underestimated how many injuries would occur as a result of the condensed 2020/21 schedule and although Moyes still believes the rule change would benefit bigger clubs, it’s one he would like to see return.
“I recommended that we would vote for three substitutes but I have looked at it again due to the player welfare issue,” he said. “I really didn’t expect so many injuries. No parties have been willing to give anything up in terms of competitions or matches.
“So, while I still think it benefits bigger squads and clubs with bigger budgets, I would consider the change back.”
Nuno Espirito Santo (Wolves)
Nuno Espirito Santo was against the introduction of five substitutions in the summer and he remains so now, echoing the likes of Ancelotti and Bruce with the view that it would do little to improve player welfare and fitness.
“It is clear the fixture calendar and the schedule are our biggest worries,” the Wolves manager said. “It’s not about the substitutes, it’s about the schedule, and this is the problem solved.”