Clubs will be allowed to replace five players across three substitution windows in a bid to reduce concerns over the risk of injuries across squads that will have had less than three weeks of full training when the competition resumes after a suspension of more than three months on June 17.
Coaches have been concerned by studies that have shown a marked increase in players experiencing fitness issues in the Bundesliga, which became the first major league in Europe to resume when it returned in mid-May but witnessed an increase from the season average of 0.27 injuries per match, rising to 0.88 in the first round of games after the restart.
Squads are facing a hectic schedule to complete the season and could be compromised by players moving into quarantine should their players be found to have caught COVID-19 during rounds of testing carried out each week for the remainder of the campaign.
While clubs with smaller squads could find themselves using more of their youth players as part of rules that will also allow nine substitutes to be named for each match, their larger counterparts with greater strength in depth arguably stand to benefit from being able to introduce more expensive players.
In January, reigning champions Manchester City were able to name a star-studded list of substitutes with a total value of almost $457 million as they crushed relegation-threatened Aston Villa 6-1 at Villa Park – and they are likely to surpass that vast sum now that they can name two extra players in reserve.
By contrast, Premier League newcomers Sheffield United’s most valuable bench during the first half of the season cost little more than $26 million, which the likes of City, league leaders Liverpool and mega-spenders Manchester United would consider pocket money in the context of their usual extravagant sprees.
Some supporters argued that the rules would be the same for managers in both dugouts and would allow more young players to potentially gain experience, but others questioned whether one of the key reasons given for resuming the season – protecting the integrity of the competition – would be shattered by changing the rules for the closing two months.
“I get that it’s the hottest time of the year and players won’t be fully fit but it is a bit of a mockery to change the rules part-way through a season,” said one.
“How can this be allowed?” asked another, alluding to the likelihood of underdogs losing a leveling opportunity by playing home games in the absence of fans.
“Surely it makes a mockery of the season being a fair level playing ground. It was already questionable with playing behind closed doors, now it’s not even the same rules.”
Players and medical staff have been more focused on the fitness benefits provided by new rules at a time when contact with physiotherapists has been reduced.
“We only get 15 minutes of treatment after training,” said World Cup winner Olivier Giroud, telling Chelsea about his preparations as one of the older players in the club’s squad.
“Muscles strain and creak but we respect the rules from the government and the Premier League. I’ll admit that if I could have more care and treatment to look after my body, it would be better.
“For all the running alone, nothing replaces being on the pitch – direction changes, accelerations, stop-and-go moves.
“Almost all of my team-mates got blisters after resuming training but it’s pure joy to be back on the pitch.”
Leading injury analyst Ben Dinnery suggested that players could use cold water immersion, compression and electrical stimulation as they attempt to avoid unnecessary injuries in the absence of massages.
“Given the intensity of the sessions, expect acute fatigue which, if not managed correctly, could lead to chronic fatigue,” he predicted.
“Recovery strategies will be tailored accordingly. Fatigue is a risk factor for non-contact injuries. Nutrition, hydration and sleep can be self-managed.”
Clubs have also agreed to the thorny proposition of neutral venues being used should it be deemed necessary for certain matches, fueling rumors that games in which Liverpool could win their first title in 30 years could be moved away from their Anfield home, where there is a risk of supporters gathering to celebrate.
Local spikes in positive cases of the coronavirus could conceivably lead to matches being moved out of certain areas, although that option has not been exercised in Germany, which has been seen as a testbed for the return of other leagues.