No Premier League manager has made fewer changes this season the Catalan, even though he has arguably the strongest squad in England

With 15 minutes to go and Manchester City chasing a winner at Crystal Palace, defenders Nathan Ake and Luke Mbete, and holding midfielder Fernandinho were warming up.

Pep Guardiola may not have had a natural striker on the bench – or even on the pitch – but he did have options to change his frontline, with Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling among his substitutes.

They eventually took their turn on the touchline, along with last season’s top scorer Ilkay Gundogan, but not one of them was brought on.

No doubt they were as frustrated as everyone else connected with the club as City were held to a 0-0 draw that allowed Liverpool to cut their Premier League lead to a single point.

“I was thinking about Gabriel and Gundo but the players were playing good in a high, high rhythm. They know that when they play like this, there is nothing to say,” Guardiola said after the game.

Theres nothing new in the City boss overlooking his bench. No manager has made fewer substitutions in the Premier League this season.

Jesuss strike in the 2-1 Champions League victory over Paris Saint-Germain in November is the only time this season that a substitute has scored either an equaliser or a winner for City.

October 2020 was the last time a substitute earned a Premier League point, when Phil Foden scored in a 1-1 draw with West Ham, while the last time someone came off the bench to score a winner was Jesus goal in the 1-0 victory over Leicester six months previously.

Guardiolas approach is at odds with the ethos of Jurgen Klopp, who made ruthless changes in Liverpools 2-0 victory over Arsenal on Wednesday, with Diogo Jota being hauled off despite scoring just moments beforehand, and being replaced by Roberto Firmino, who added the second.

Indeed, Divock Origis entire Anfield career has been built around his ability to make an impact from the bench, which has put him high on the list of footballs most famous super-subs.

With the title race now so tight and City needing to win every game to guarantee finishing above the rivals, it begs the question, why doesnt Guardiola use his substitutes as game-changers in the same way as Klopp?

One of the main reasons is that his first move when trying to find a breakthrough is to make tactical tweaks rather than changes to personnel.

Rather than make a sudden and dramatic switch to a Plan B, the City boss changes tend to be more subtle, with his small, in-game alterations usually a reaction to what is happening on the pitch.

Take the Manchester Derby, for example, when Bernardo Silva twice sprinted over from the far touchline in the opening five minutes to receive instructions from the dugout before overloading Uniteds right-hand side to carve open the visitors.

However, while that move was highly effective, other matches can develop in different ways as Guardiola and opposing managers change and counter-change.

Southamptons Ralph Hassenhuttl, who City face on Sunday in the FA Cup having failed to beat in their two Premier League clashes this season, is an example of a coach who can cause problems by responding effectively to Guardiolas moves.

“They were incredibly organised and this is one of the best performances we played against them,” the City boss said after the 1-1 draw with the Saints in January.

“Yes, the result was not good, but in terms of performance and the way we played, it was excellent.”

Just one substitution was made in that game – Jesus replacing Sterling after an hour, which is a relatively early substitution for the Catalan – and that was because Guardiola was generally happy with how his team were playing.

The visitors were dominating possession and creating opportunities. The only reason they didnt win was because they failed to take good chances.

It was the same in Monday nights draw at Palace at Selhurst Park, where they hit the woodwork and missed a handful of close-range attempts. They were not struggling to create.

Furthermore, any changes Guardiola makes are usually always like-for-like replacements.

Intelligent, technical players replace intelligent, technical players. Guardiola is reluctant to instead introduce a speedy winger or a hulking striker because he fears such a dramatic change would disrupt rather than improve the teams performance.

Citys success, remember, is built on team ethic rather than relying on a moment of individual brilliance from a maverick influence.

It, therefore, appears curious to many that Guardiola was so keen on the Premier League increasing the amount of subs allowed to five, given he uses them so sparingly.

However, his concern in that instance is player welfare rather than affording himself more options off the bench.

With the top sides having such busy schedules, changes are often made to give players more rest once a match has been won.

Having more subs would also mean greater scope for offering young players the chance to acclimatise to the first-team environment.

Fodens progression was underpinned by a slow integration into the starting line-up, dotted with short appearances from the bench.

Cole Palmer, before a recent injury, was following the same trajectory, with Guardiola unwilling to put the pressure on academy players to bail his side out of jail on the rare occasions that the senior stars are struggling.

In the recent loss at home to Tottenham, Aymeric Laporte was pushed further forward as City chased an equaliser instead of bringing on emerging star Liam Delap.

It can be a frustrating policy for fans and Guardiola came under criticism for sticking with his starting line-up at Selhurst Park.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.