In the modern day managers don’t necessarily pick their best starting eleven anymore, instead selecting what he considers to be his ‘best team’. To put it into perspective he chooses the best possible line up to begin the game but also pays heavy attention to the substitutes bench, electing players that could be called upon to offer an extra dimension when the situation requires.
The role of a substitute has altered significantly since they were first introduced in the mid-1960’s and have taken on a pronounced sense of importance. This is especially true in cup competitions when matches can stretch beyond the allotted 90 minutes into extra time and penalty shootouts. The introduction of fresh legs and fresh minds at the opportune moment can prove to be the ultimate difference between success and failure.
As the role of a super sub harks itself back into fashion this term the Capital One Cup has shown that football’s equivalent of a proxy is becoming more of a valuable asset to managers. Examples of such aren’t exactly thin on the ground either with Chelsea and Aston Villa two of the more prominent teams to benefit from a change over the course of a game.
The introduction of Eden Hazard essentially swung the quarter final clash with Leeds in favour of the Blues, the Belgian winger entering the fray on the hour mark with the score finely poised at 1-1. In the 30 minutes he was on the field Hazard provided the pace and incision missing in the first period and unnerved the home side enough for Chelsea to score four more goals, including one of his own nine minutes from time, and easily dispatch their Championship opponents.
Similarly for Villa, their last eight clash with Norwich was won by a well judged substitution by Paul Lambert. The decision to throw Andreas Weinmann on for an injured Darren Bent in the 35th minute once again showed the value of a strong bench with the Austrian going on to win the game for the west Midlands club with two goals in the second half.
Those are just two samples that have cropped up from this seasons competition and they certainly won’t be the last. Teams are now throwing caution to the wind in cup competitions, with an emphasis now placed on rotation and maintaining player freshness, there is a viable argument that astute substitutions are the key to winning the Capital One Cup.
You just have glance at some of the finals that have been decided on the swing of a substitution in the competitions illustrious history. Obafemi Martins for Birmingham in 2011. Wayne Rooney for Manchester United in 2010. Mateja Kezman for Chelsea in 2005. Perry Groves for Arsenal in 1987. All made significant contributions for their team on the way to cup success.
In an era where squad rotation and fixture congestion has become more and more prevalent the value of a strong bench has never been higher. Substitutions are now shaping the landscape now that managers are opting not to field a full strength eleven and games are frequently being taken into extra time. The requirement for these game changers is becoming a standard necessity as the advantage of having a strong squad is cherished.
The days when decisions were made at the drop of a hat are long gone with changes now more methodical and mapped out as the minutes tick by. More and more managers are now beginning to probe how a sub can impact the pattern of game and turn the tide in their favour.