In years gone by Farke used substitutes late to waste time or as a very last resort, so why is he now the spokesman for allowing more in the EFL?
Saturday’s game was the first Championship match in which City had been able to use five substitutes, and Farke used all of them. He covered all bases with these changes, using one to replace an injured player, two to make tactical changes and two to waste time when one goal up.
The German had continually rallied for the allowing of five changes, highlighting that England was the only of the major footballing nations to return to three subs at the start of the season. The reason for the stance he took would’ve eluded fans two years ago, when Farke rarely used substitutes for tactical reasons, and very rarely prior to the 70-minute mark.
It’s also worth noting that City had a total of ten losses from the ten matches in their history in which they had been allowed to use five subs prior to this season. With arguably the weakest and definitely the shallowest of Premier League squads last term, the expanded bench certainly didn’t favour the Canaries.
So what’s changed since then?
For some it may appear obvious. City invested around £15million in the first-team playing squad in the summer, and have dropped down to a league where their squad was envied by most even prior to their heavy investment. The five-sub rule means they can now field 16 of their players rather than 14, exploiting the gulf in quality between Norwich and their opponents.
A change in Farke’s own mindset is also a contributing factor, with the former Borussia Dortmund II coach clearly happier than he previously was to change things when they’re not working well. The same could not be said for large parts of last season, when fans would cry out for changes after 60 minutes, only for the boss to wait until the 85th to throw either Adam Idah or Josip Drmic on. Suffice it to say a grand total of zero points were won by goalscoring substitutes in 2019/20.
That doesn’t mean he’s afraid to change his approach. The Canaries have won ten points this season thanks to goals scored by substitutes (@ncfcnumbers), and that doesn’t include Farke’s genius introduction of Bali Mumba and Josh Martin against Swansea (Buendia technically got the assist but Mumba got at least an honorary one). Farke explained his Swansea substitutions to the club website after the game.
“They opted to use Ayew on the right-wing, we said he is perhaps not the best player against the ball. We wanted to use this with a more pacey full-back and that was why we gave Bali his debut on the left full-back position. We needed to pin their full-back, we need then not the pace of Placheta, we need a number 10 type like Josh Martin”.
The complexity of this tactical change underlines the genius Farke is capable of when setting his team up. The criticism of substitutions has always been that they can be an indicator that the first eleven was selected poorly. The changes against Swansea were a reaction to an opposition change, but it can be argued that the 10 points won may have been even more had the goalscoring substitutes simply started the relevant games.
The reality is that, in some cases, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Mario Vrancic, who’s won the most points (four), is technically able but needs space to operate in, hence his limited involvement starting as a number 10 in a tight game at Brentford. He certainly wouldn’t have been afforded this space in the early stages of the narrow wins against Birmingham and Wycombe, the two matches in which he found the net from the bench.
Another potential explanation for the increase in substitutions is to give players a rest. While most have pointed out the suspicious nature of the managers with the greatest squads asking for five subs in a number of leagues, the reason why the rule is currently being deployed is for that very reason- to rest tired players. With a shortened pre-season and more hectic schedule as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the load on players is heavier, and more substitutions are allowed to decrease the risk of injury.
Farke is currently without Xavi Quintilla, Kenny McLean, Adam Idah and Bali Mumba, Onel Hernandez and Sam Byram through non-contact injuries and will likely delve into the academy if any more problems are found. While the German is a head coach that likes to blood young players this is an option he’s not keen to take (despite left-back Rob Nizet netting twice for the U23s while I’m writing this).
Daniel Farke is still a young coach learning his trade, and, with the help of the five-sub rule, is starting to use his tactical genius to make the most of his options. In the words of the German on the matter of substitutes, “Fortune favours the brave”.