Player safety has always been paramount to any efforts to restart the Premier League and that didn’t necessarily extend to just limiting the spread of coronavirus. With players being asked to play a significant number of games in a short window, with fewer rest periods in between fixtures, the risk of injuries is heightened and as such the decision to follow the recently proposed IFAB rules of increasing the number of substitutes to five temporarily will go a long way to reducing needless injuries and safeguard players.
The International Football Association Board (IFAB) had previously in May said the move to temporarily increase the limit on substitutions to five had been made to the restarted 2019/20 seasons and it has now been ratified by the 20 member clubs of the Premier League following a meeting on potential measures to facilitate the return of top flight football to England later this month.
Under the rules IFAB had previously agreed, in order to prevent the increased number of substitutions being unfairly used to waste time, that while teams would have access to a greater number of replacements they still could only be made during three periods – in essence, a side could make all five substitutions but it would have to occur in batches with double and triple substitutions likely to be much more commonplace during the restarted season, akin to what is often seen during pre-season.
In particular, there is concern that the unusual circumstances of the restart will lead to an increase in muscular injuries as players are asked to perform at competitive level more frequently and with fewer rest periods. Speaking with BBC Radio 5 Live, Newcastle club doctor Paul Catterson suggested in particular, based on evidence seen a few years ago from an NFL lockout, there would particular attention paid towards Achilles injuries, which had seen a spike on the return to action in the NFL following the lockout that season. There has also been approval given for clubs to host friendlies behind closed doors to both regain match fitness in their squads but the consensus remains there is a heightened injury risk and as such the additional substitutions will go a long way to ensuring no team is disadvantaged or any player forced to play on needlessly.