One of Football’s seemingly dying cliches states that you cannot read anything into the league table until 10 games into the season. That sentiment did not help the likes of Francesco Guidolin or Frank De Boer in recent years, both of whom were sacked as manager with the season still very much in its embryonic stage, perhaps explaining why the phrase is no longer heard as often as it once was. Yet from a statistical perspective, there is sound logic behind the statement. The larger the sample size of data, the more reliable and relevant any statistical analysis will be. After just one game week, attempting to analyse players or clubs on an individual basis is largely pointless. Georges-Kevin Nkoudou for example is not the most influential player in the Premier League, despite the fact that his Plus Minus rating per 90 minutes currently stands at +15, since that has been calculated from just 6 minutes of game time. Interestingly though, Nkoudou played just 9 minutes in the Premier League last season, which resulted in a Plus Minus rating per 90 minutes of +10, so perhaps he deserves a few more opportunities in the first team to assess whether these performances are nothing more than statistical anomalies or he is in fact an underutilised player at Tottenham.

During the early weeks of the season, rather than focusing purely on the Plus Minus statistic, the weekly blog will instead analyse some associated statistics on a league-wide basis. This week’s blog looks at substitutions, which given that 60 are available across a full game week provides a large enough sample size to make some broad observations. The majority of managers used their full quota of three substitutions, with 52 substitutions in total. Burnley, Crystal Palace, Watford, Leicester, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Newcastle United all used 2 of their 3 substitutions, whilst Bournemouth only used one. Given his side conceded an 88th minute equaliser against Sheffield United, Eddie Howe will perhaps be regretting not being more active on Saturday.

Of those 52 substitutions, 3 were enforced substitutions due to injury, meaning that the remaining 49 could be described as ‘Tactical substitutions’, depending on how you define that term. None of these 49 substitutions took place in the first half, with 2 coming at Half Time and only 5 during the first 15 minutes of the second half.

Time periodNumber of tactical substitutions during Game Week 1
First Half0
Half Time2
46-50 minutes0
51-55 minutes1
56-60 minutes4
61-65 minutes7
66-70 minutes6
71-75 minutes8
76-80 minutes6
81-85 minutes8
86-90 minutes5
91+ minutes2

Across the 49 tactical substitutions, 41 could be considered like-for-like substitutions, from a positional sense at least, if not necessarily in terms of role or player profile. None of these like-for-like substitutions involved either goalkeepers or defenders, with 19 involving midfielders and 22 involving forwards. Of the 8 tactical substitutions which were not like-for-like, there was an even 4:4 split between ‘attacking’ and ‘defensive’ substitutions. Just two of these occured when the scoreline was level, with Newcastle substituting central midfielder Jonjo Shelvey for full-back Jetro Willems against Arsenal, whilst Leicester substituted midfielder Hamza Choudhury for winger Harvey Barnes.

In terms of the impact of these substitutions, just 4 resulted in a points gained, with the biggest gain coming after Christian Eriksen was introduced for Tottenham whilst trailing Aston Villa 0-1, before a late flurry saw Spurs prevail 3-1. The other 3 substitutions all belonged to Sheffield United against Bournemouth, including striker Billy Sharp, who scored the equaliser after replacing centre back Chris Basham. There were also 4 substitutions which resulted in lost points; all 3 Aston Villa substitutions at Tottenham, and the aforementioned substitution for Newcastle of Willems replacing Shelvey.

In terms of broad trends, what is perhaps most striking is how rare certain types of substitutions are. The majority of managers appear to be extremely reluctant to make a first half tactical substitution. To highlight just one example, Norwich City were 3-0 down after 28 minutes and 4-0 down before half time, yet did not make a substitution until the 58th minute, 6 minutes before they scored their solitary consolation goal. Whilst managers are able to make tactical changes without changing personnel, it does feel like some managers see a first half substitution as a loss of face, and admittance that their initial selection might be.

Another trend of note is the fact that the majority of tactical substitutions involve attacking players. 54% of the like-for-like tactical switches involved forwards, though that figure would be higher were attack-minded midfielders also included. The fact that not a single defender was involved in a like-for-like tactical change is an extension of the general selection trend of trying to maintain a settled defensive unit for the sake of greater solidity at the back. However, with an increased emphasis on defenders to play out from the back, might we see a trend develop in the future of defenders possessing better distribution skills being brought on as an ‘attacking’ substitution, particularly when chasing a game?

Whilst we can identify a few broad trends, it again is worth stating that even 10 games is a small sample size. Half of those 10 games were level at half time, with only Liverpool and Norwich separated by more than 1 goal. If fewer games had been in the balance at half time, it is quite possible that some different trends would have emerged, and therefore this is something which we will be following across the season.

Fantasy Premier League Tip – Neal Maupay

Selected by just 0.6% of players currently, Brighton striker Neal Maupay is one of the cheapest strikers in the game at just £6 million. Having scored 25 goals in the Championship last season, Maupay appears to have been identified by the Seagulls as the long-term successor to Glenn Murray, who turns 36 next month. A goal on his debut suggests that may happen sooner rather than later, and Maupay would be a great addition for anyone looking for a cheap striker to free up some funds for other areas of the squad.