The dwindling impact of substitutes in the Premier League
An analysis of how teams have benefitted from substitutes with respect to points won in the EPL
"A lackadaisical defence left Spurs adrift in the second half". Google’s example of the use of ‘lackadaisical’ refers to Tottenham’s tendency to concede goals after the interval. Mauricio Pochettino has instilled relative solidity at the back at White Hart Lane following his summer appointment, but the example was certainly applicable on Tuesday night.
Late on, Spurs centre-back pairing Jan Vertonghen and Eric Dier both failed to track the run of Mario Balotelli, who was on hand to net a third for Liverpool in their pulsating win over the north London outfit. It was his first league goal for the Reds from his 48th shot.
The impact he made, 9 minutes after coming on to replace Daniel Sturridge, maintained Liverpool’s quest for a top-4 finish and dented Spurs' hopes of securing a Champions League place. The 2 points gained for Liverpool saw Super Mario make his first appearance as a Super Sub.
When looking at the most prolific subs in England’s top tier this season, Papiss Demba Cissé leads the way, with 5 goals scored from the bench for Newcastle United, an impressive return, with those making up half of his 10 Premier League goals. His 5 as a substitute have won the Magpies 4 points. Frank Lampard is not far behind having won the Citizens 3 points from the bench this term.
The timing of Lampard's goals has aided Manchester City in their quest to retain their top-flight crown. Lampard’s exploits later in games may play a key role in where the Premier League title ends up this season and it’s no surprise City extended his stay at the Etihad Stadium until May.
80% of Lampard’s goals have been netted when he has come on as a sub, a higher return than Cissé (50%) and it’s his goals from the bench that recently saw City boss Manuel Pellegrini admit he prefers the midfielder as a substitute than a starter. "When the other teams have played 50 or 60 minutes, I think Frank makes more of a difference. His best moments of the season came as a substitute and he scores. I hope he continues in the same way."
The former England international would have hoped to gain more starting minutes in the prolonged absence of Yaya Touré, but with the Ivorian expected to reclaim his starting spot following his return from international duty; the chances are Lampard will have to make do with a regular place on the bench between now and the end of the season.
City substitutes have netted 7 of their 51 league goals this term, so Pellegrini is bringing out the best out in Lampard when many felt he would not have been such a success at City following his arrival from Chelsea.
With the goalscoring return of their substitutes, the latest of which was James Milner with a last-gasp equaliser in City’s 1-1 draw with Hull, it’s little surprise that, along with Hull, the Citizens are 1 of 2 teams to have used all 3 substitutes in every Premier League match this season.
Pellegrini has ample strength in depth to help his side to glory and he is utilising his squad, making the changes he feels are necessary in order to alter the course of the game, as was the case against Chelsea, Sunderland and Hull this season.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, it’s Aston Villa and Sunderland whose subs have struggled in front of goal. Neither team have had a substitute net a single goal in the Premier League this season.
With Villa's goalscoring woes, the lack of impact from subs not only suggests Paul Lambert struggled to pick the right team from the off, but that he lacked the tactical acumen to impact games, which contributed to his sacking on Wednesday night.
There is also the argument, though, that Lambert did not have sufficient quality in reserve to make a difference, with the inexperienced Jack Grealish (9) and striker deemed Championship standard Darren Bent (7) having made the most sub appearances for Villa this term. Sunderland’s subs have failed to score, but Liam Bridcutt and Will Buckley have both registered an assist from the bench. Nobody has an assist from the bench for Villa.
However, not every substitute that scores from the bench is going to be a match-winner. After Fraizer Campbell and Chris Smalling both netted in midweek, 45 players have now done so from when introduced as a substitute, but 16 of those have not had a bearing on the final result of the match in question. Cissé’s 4 points won from the bench remains the most of any Premier League player this season and his impact deserves credit.
The above graphic, though, shows that the Premier League table would be relatively unchanged without goals from subs. Perhaps the most telling difference would be the gap between Chelsea and City, which would be 10 points rather than 7, with this merely implying that José Mouinho's first choice XI is capable of wrapping up victory without needing to make drastic changes during games.
Cissé and Lampard, amongst others, may have impressed from the bench this season, though the low number of points gained by subs this campaign suggests that managers are doing enough from the off to secure a positive result. However, with the proportion of Premier League goals scored by subs dropping this season (9.7%) from last (12.2%), this hints that those brought on to make an impact are not having the desired effect in games.
The drop in goals scored coupled with a low number of points won suggests the use of subs is not overly important for teams in England's top tier.
Do you think the impact of substitutes has dropped in the Premier League this season compared to last?