Football substitutes: Who makes the best use of them?

Football substitutes: Who makes the best use of them?

There’s definitely an art to making the best use of football substitutes. If matches ended at half time, fourth-placed Arsenal would be seventh while Leicester and Wolves – currently sitting seventh and eighth – would both be in the bottom six.

We were curious to find out which managers are the best at changing games using their substitutes and which players are best – and worst – when introduced from the bench, so we’ve analysed the data from the last five seasons for every Premier League and EFL club.

Which managers use their bench most effectively?

With Arsenal developing something of a reputation for finishing games strongly this season, it will surprise few to learn that the Premier League’s master of making tactical changes is Gunners boss Unai Emery. In his first season in England so far, he has gained a total of 17 points after making his first substitution, which scales up to over 20 points across a 38-game campaign.

However, the EFL contains another newcomer to these shores whose personnel changes have yielded more points per season, even when you correct for the additional number of matches played. Leeds’ tactical mastermind Marcelo Bielsa is venerated by his fellow managers and he’s demonstrated one of the many reasons for this since his arrival, having increased his team’s tally by over half a point per game after turning to his bench.

Which players are the most effective football substitutes?

Juan Mata has increasingly been used from the bench as he approaches the twilight of his career, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that this is his most effective role. The Spanish midfielder’s introduction has seen almost half a point gained per match on average since joining Manchester United – the most of any player with at least 10 substitute appearances in their current league and for their current club. The only EFL player who can hold a candle to this record is Norwich striker Jordan Rhodes, whose appearance on the touchline has heralded a similar uplift in fortunes.

Which players have better scoring rates from the bench?

It’s safe to say that Oumar Niasse has struggled to establish himself in England given that he’s at his third Premier League club in four seasons, but the data shows why he’s so often kept on the bench. Along with Burnley’s Chris Wood, he has netted around one-and-a-quarter goals per 90 minutes from the bench – far more frequently than when on the pitch from kick-off. Across the EFL, Brentford’s Neal Maupay and Jorge Grant of Mansfield stand out as being even more prolific as substitutes.

When do managers make their substitutions?

A manager’s strategy for making mid-match personnel changes will have a huge bearing on how much of an uplift those changes provide, and an examination of when substitutions have been made this season reveals some striking differences. While Emery tends to move early, making his first change shortly after the 50th minute, the likes of Roy Hodgson at Crystal Palace only turn to their bench when there are around 15 minutes left to play.

Daniel Farke of Norwich and Port Vale’s John Askey have also left it late to make their changes, while Blackburn’s Tony Mowbray and new Huddersfield boss Jan Siewert both turn to their respective benches as early as Emery.

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