To Sub Or Not To Sub?

Slavisa Jokanovic. Credit: Action Images via Reuters

The manager’s job is very much under scrutiny in the modern game, whether it is playing the right starting line-up, adapting the right tactics for the game, making subs at the correct time and what player he brings on / takes off. The list is endless, so it really is no surprise that a manager’s lifespan is shorter than it ever has been.

At Fulham we have Slaviša Jokanović, a manager who had us playing great football last season, resulting in a top 6 league finish. We played fast attacking football, (joint top scorers in the league) and had incredible possession throughout the season (57% Average) but one area he has often been criticised for, is his impact during the game. Some fans think he is too reactive with his subs, and sometimes does not bring on the right players, at the right times. I, therefore, decided to look at the numbers in more detail, to analyse his subs and the impact they have had on us this season, along with the same data from last season, to see if there are any trends or differences.

Firstly, this season SJ has made 46 substitutions from a total of 18 games (2 Cup and 16 league matches), 12 of these games he made the maximum number of subs, so I think it is safe to say he is very active with his use of substitutions. His active approach with subs, took a very different turn, when you look at the fixtures in the Carabao cup, as he made an identical singular sub, at almost the exact minute, for the same player. You could excuse the first fixture against Wycombe, as we were winning, but against Bristol Rovers, when we were trailing the game and had an experienced bench we could have utilised some different personnel.

The average time of an SJ substitution is the 66th minute, however, this figure is completely irrelevant when you consider injuries, red cards and subs in the 90th minute to close out a game. What you can look it with the timing of the subs, is how the game was heading when the subs were made, and if the subs had an influence on the result. From the 46 subs he has made, 14 have made a difference to the result of the game, with 6 subs resulting in a negative result, and 8 being positive. Ironically the 6 subs which proved to have a negative result, were at the start of the season, and since then SJ has never made a sub which has resulted in a negative outcome, this would appear to suggest that SJ is making correct subs at the correct times, whereas he perhaps wasn’t at the start of the season. Also, when you exclude injuries and red cards, SJ has still made 11 subs before the 60th minute, 4 of which were made at halftime which suggests he is not afraid to make changes if they have not got a good foothold in the game.

The comparisons to last season show that he made 51 subs in the same amount of games (excluding extra time in the cup games), the average time of his subs were the 72nd minute, and from the 51 subs made, 17 made a difference to the outcome of the game, with 8 having a negative impact on the game and 9 being positive. These numbers only reinforce my earlier sentiments that Jokanović is more than prepared to make a lot of subs if things are not going the way he had planned. There is a marginal difference from his average timing of the subs from last season, but it is important to note that we have had more forced substitutions this season with injuries, along with the red card to Kalas which certainly impacts the average timing of the subs.

Those that think he is too reactive might rethink about those statements, because he has shown, like last season that if something is not working well, he is not afraid to make early changes. Think Johansen last season when he was withdrawn on his debut in the 32nd minute, and this season when captain Cairney was introduced to start the second half comeback against Preston. You could perhaps argue the fact that he has failed to set up his team correctly in the first place, if he needs to make changes so early in the game, however this also contradicts another negative statement that is often aimed at SJ in the fact that he is stubborn, although the counter side of that particular argument is that he is too stubborn with his starting 11 idea.

Finally, I will end this article by stating that I am by no means making SJ out to be a perfect manager, (for what it is worth I do not agree with his starting 11 most weeks), but who am I really to say anything after some mediocre success on Football manager, as appose to a manager who let’s not forget got Watford promoted, and made us a top 6 side last season. Writing this article has made me perhaps appreciate that he is not as reactive as I initially thought, he often uses the most number of subs possible and has shown multiple times that he can make changes early in the game. Although the effectiveness of these subs is not that impressive.

When you look at the outcome of the subs, both this season and last season his subs were shown to have a marginally positive effect on the game, however when you look at these numbers in greater detail the negative outcome slightly outweighs the positive from a points perspective, as we would be 3 points worse off this season (with regards to the final outcome, as appose to the result when the subs were made ) but when you compare this to last season, we would have been 7 points worse off. This is a clear sign, that when SJ does make a sub, the chances of it having a negative effect on the games are lower than they perhaps were at this stage last season. This analysis only paints a fraction of the picture this season, and it will be interesting to revisit these statistics at the end of the season.

Despite our bad recent form, there is still a long way to go, and I still hope (and believe) we have a good enough squad to challenge the top 6. Kline has now gone, and there seems to be an agreement amongst the fans, that this is the best for the club, but some would argue he should never have been hired in the first place. That is one can of worms I won’t be opening today, but let’s hope that SJ turns us around like he did last season, and we end up in the PL where we belong.