Manchester City opted against making a single substitution in a Premier League game for the first time in 15 years against Fulham on Saturday, despite manager Pep Guardiola leading the calls for the number of changes permitted to increase from three to five.
First-half goals from Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne secured a routine win for Guardiola’s side at the Etihad Stadium, though it could and perhaps should have been more given the number of chances they created.
The game was also notable because Guardiola opted against bringing a player off the bench, the first time City have chosen not to make a substitution in a Premier League game since a 2-2 draw against Charlton Athletic in 2005.
The statistic is given extra significance because the Catalan has been vocal in his desire for the Premier League to change the rules and allow teams to make five substitutes in a game once more.
The rule was introduced during Project Restart to ease the strain on players given the hectic schedule. But, while other leagues in Europe have continued to allow teams to make up to five substitutions, clubs in the English top flight have twice voted against the idea and returned to a maximum of three.
There are some who believe the five substitutes rule disproportionately benefits the bigger clubs, who have larger squads.
Speaking in October, Guardiola dismissed that suggestion, saying it is simply to protect the players, many of whom average a game every three or four days.
That is certainly the case for City, who have played 17 games in 75 days since the start of the season, with two international breaks also taking place in that period.
City have also been hit by key injuries with Sergio Aguero, Fernandinho, Gabriel Jesus, Benjamin Mendy and Nathan Ake having fitness issues, strengthening Guardiola’s argument that too much strain is being put on the players.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp is another top-flight manager who has argued for five substitutes, saying England boss Gareth Southgate will suffer because of the workload Three Lions players face between now and the European Championship next summer.