Gareth Southgate wants a rethink on the Premier League’s limit of three substitutions per side per match as he fears players could suffer serious injury in the hectic fixture schedule caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The England manager, who is also unhappy at the lack of a winter break this season, has followed Jürgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola in questioning why the league has not sanctioned the use of up to five substitutes.
The Liverpool and Manchester City managers, and some other clubs in the division, wanted the rule to be implemented this season – in line with other European competitions – only to be outvoted twice at Premier League meetings. The so-called smaller clubs think it would put them at a competitive disadvantage.
Southgate has had his squads undermined by injury this season, as well as by Covid-related issues, and he is worried about the impact on his selection for the European Championship finals next June. His latest problems came during Sunday’s 2-0 defeat in Belgium, where Ben Chilwell and Jordan Henderson were forced off with minor knocks. Henderson has now left the squad as has Raheem Sterling, who has a calf injury. Chilwell has stayed on.
“We were able to make five changes against Belgium – we made four in the end – and clubs don’t have that option,” the manager said. “What will it take for that to change? There were a couple of less serious injuries against Belgium but what do we do? Wait until we get a load of really nasty ones?”
Southgate renewed his call for a collaborative approach between international managers and their club counterparts with regard to player welfare. “I have to be fair to the club managers,” he said. “They are their players firstly, and they have the right to play them as they see fit. What we have got to do as a collective is to try to help the load.
“We could not have prepared physically any better than we did last week. We have given players extra days’ recovery. We have tapered the training appropriately and we have still ended up with a couple of injuries. So that is a worry in the longer term because with no winter break … something has to give.”
The manager has become aware of extreme scrutiny of his selections given the two international breaks have featured triple bills of fixtures. He faces a decision over Jack Grealish for Wednesday’s Nations League tie against Iceland at Wembley; the Aston Villa man produced fine performances in his starts against the Republic of Ireland and then Belgium.
“If he reports fine then of course we would like to give him the opportunity to keep going,” Southgate said. “But like all the players, we have got to assess him physically. Although his club haven’t had the sort of schedule that other clubs have had, we have still got to make sure we are not taking any chances.”