Talking Tactics

Season trends: Goals from substitutes on the rise again

By Adrian Clarke 19 Nov 2023
Darwin Nunez lead

Adrian Clarke looks at how players are making more of an impact from the bench in 2023/24

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Adrian Clarke looks at tactical trends of the 2023/24 season so far.

More goals from substitutes

Are Premier League managers extracting more from their substitutes this season? In a goalscoring sense the evidence suggests they are.

The introduction of five substitutions at the start of 2022/23 has inevitably increased the number of goals scored by replacement players.

In May, goals by substitutes had leapt by 29.4 per cent on the 2021/22 season, but after almost a third of this season it seems we are in store for another significant rise.

Extra added time has helped too of course, but as we stand, 15.4 per cent of all Premier League goals have been netted by a substitute this season.

Remarkably, we have also seen the ratio of goals per game by subs double in the last three seasons.

Perhaps learning how to gauge situations better, and with more experience of using up to five subs under their belt, head coaches across the division will welcome these numbers.

Substitute goals last four seasons
  20/21 21/22 22/23 23/24
Matches played 380 380 380 120
Goals 1,024 1,071 1,084 370
Sub goals 90 102 132 57
Sub goals % 8.8% 9.5% 12.2% 15.4%
Sub goals/90 0.24 0.27 0.35 0.48

Footballers will always be naturally disappointed not to start matches but recent rule changes are supplying benched players with greater opportunities to make an impact.

This will help head coaches to retain harmonious relationships and maintain high levels of individual motivation.

Who has the best bench?

You cannot judge a manager’s intuition or squad depth solely on the number of goals scored by substitutes, but some clubs have fared significantly better than others.

Crystal Palace are the only top-flight side still waiting for their first goal from a player off the bench this season.

Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Manchester City may also feel slightly frustrated that they have had only one substitute goalscorer apiece too, particularly with the depth of quality at their disposal.

PL club with most substitute goals 23/24
Club Goals
Arsenal 7
Brighton 7
Wolves 6
Aston Villa 5
Newcastle 5

Mikel Arteta and Roberto De Zerbi will be happy with contributions from their subs across the first 12 matches, with seven goals apiece scored directly by replacements.

Bigger benches provide head coaches with a wider range of choices, and those two head coaches seem to get those decisions right more than others.

Interestingly, only three of 20 Premier League managers have utilised all five changes available to them in more than 75 per cent of their matches.

A lot of of them are resisting the temptation to make wholesale substitutions, instead judging each encounter and game state on its own merits.

Managers who have used five subs 23/24
Manager No. of times five subs used
Roberto De Zerbi 9
Steve Cooper 9
Ange Postecoglou 9
 Andoni Iraola 8
Vincent Kompany 8
Marco Silva 8
Rob Edwards 8
Who are this season’s super subs?

Since the start of last season, Callum Wilson (six goals, one assist) and Darwin Nunez (four goals, two assists) have been the most impactful Premier League players from the bench.

Using these players' explosive pace to punish tiring opponents, bosses Eddie Howe and Jurgen Klopp know they can trust them to deliver as second-half replacements.

This time around Aston Villa winger Leon Bailey has been the chief difference maker, coming off the bench to score two goals and provide a further two assists across four separate matches.

Bailey's MW12 assist for Watkins v Fulham

Nunez, Fabio Vieira, Pablo Sarabia and Jean-Philippe Mateta have all delivered three direct-goal contributions as subs this season too.

Most goal contributions from subs 23/24
Player Goals Assists Total
Leon Bailey 2 2 4
Darwin Nunez 2 1 3
Fabio Vieira 1 2 3
Pablo Sarabia 1 2 3
Jean-Philippe Mateta 0 3 3

The role of a substitute feels more valuable than ever.

Even if players do not always appreciate missing out from the start, more and more are having a huge say in the outcome of Premier League matches.

The data is clear. Premier League football has become more of a squad game than ever before.

Also in this series

Part 1: Inverted full-backs providing tactical flexibility
Part 2: Why Premier League teams are scoring more goals
Part 3: Why number of free-kicks and corners have fallen

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