EPL managers frustrated at 3-sub rule as COVID-19 cases bite

·4 min read

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp became the latest Premier League manager to express his frustration at being allowed to make only three substitutions during a match at a busy time when many squads are being hit hard by coronavirus cases.

England’s top division is one of the few leagues to decide against using five substitutions for matches. That measure was introduced in May 2020 to enable teams to cope better with the congested schedule when soccer resumed following a suspension due to the coronavirus, and has been retained on a permanent basis by most countries.

Clubs in England voted to revert to three subs for last season and this season. The issue has been reignited, though, because of COVID-19 outbreaks in many squads over the past month in the wake of an increase in cases as the omicron variant spreads.

The Premier League announced Monday 103 new coronavirus cases among club players and staff last week. That is the highest weekly number recorded since testing figures began being circulated in May last year.

“This wonderful game is so wonderful because usually the player on the pitch is in good shape, is well trained, is well recovered and can go for it. That’s why we love the game,” Klopp said.

“But now the situation is clear … The best league in the world and the most intense league in the world is the only league in Europe with still three subs. It’s not right.”

England is the only one of the major leagues in Europe to be playing matches over the festive period, with some teams in the middle of a run of three games in seven days.

Many games have been postponed, though, because of COVID-19 outbreaks in squads.

The Premier League has now called off 15 matches in just 2 1/2 weeks as a result of coronavirus issues, the latest being Leeds-Aston Villa and Arsenal-Wolverhampton — both of which were scheduled to be played on Tuesday.

Klopp has had four players — Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho, Thiago Alcantara and Curtis Jones — sidelined after they contracted the virus over the past two weeks but they are back in training and could play against Leicester on Tuesday.

“Especially in this moment, you bring players back after a COVID infection or after an injury and because of the games you have to play, they have to play immediately,” Klopp said. “Then you cannot get them (off the field) after 60 minutes because you have to change others, that kind of thing. It’s a real problem.”

Klopp accepted things are not going to change in the Premier League, with smaller clubs feeling they are at a disadvantage compared to the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool in terms of squad depth.

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel also acknowledged there is “zero chance” of a return to five substitutions, but it didn’t stop him complaining as he wrestles with injury and illness problems in his squad.

“We are not protecting the players,” Tuchel said, “because we are the only league who doesn’t have five changes.”

Chelsea’s 3-1 win at Aston Villa was its eighth game in all competitions in December, with Brighton visiting Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.

Tuchel saw N’Golo Kante — recently back after a knee injury — and Thiago Silva sustain injuries against Villa, while Chelsea was still without forwards Kai Havertz and Timo Werner because of illness. Tuchel said he was forced to play Mateo Kovacic against Villa without any preparation after his recent return from injury and COVID-19.

“We are filling holes where we can fill them,” Tuchel said.

“We are struggling,” he added. “We’re pressing our players. I have maximum respect for what the players did. We do changes because of injuries. We don’t change for tactical reasons anymore.”

Villa assistant manager Gary McAllister said after the Chelsea game that returning to five subs per game is a “must.”

“We are putting too much demand on the players,” he said.

There are still no restrictions on the number of fans allowed in stadiums to watch Premier League games amid the increase in virus cases.

In France, the government announced Monday a maximum of 5,000 spectators will be allowed at matches from Jan. 3 in an effort to combat omicron.

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80

Steve Douglas, The Associated Press

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