The Impact on Match Outcomes from Substitutions

May 26, 2023
Substitutions. Why they're important and how you can track their success with ease.

It’s no secret that tactical decisions play a key role in shaping the outcome of a football match, with substitutions being among the top for having the greatest impact. Coaches can strategically choose to bring on a substitute for various reasons, such as to improve game tactics or to alleviate fatigue within the team and bring in some fresh energy. Due to this, substitutions serve as a vital tool that coaches can employ to enhance the team performance. By making effective use of substitutions, coaches can influence the course of the match and maximise the teams chance of success.

Previous findings have shown that substitutes have contributed significantly to positive match outcomes. With the knowledge of the match outcome, paired with data from substitutes versus other players, this can give a great insight into what type of impact substitutes are making on the match. That’s why, in this month's blog, we’ll be focussing  on substitutions with how they can have a positive impact on games and introducing you to a new feature in the PlayerData App which will be key to tracking this.

Substitution Timing

As mentioned previously, there are different ways that substitutions can have an effect on performance of the team and match outcome. For instance, take the time of when a substitution happens, previous studies have indicated that the most effective time to make your first substitution falls between the 61st and 75th minute of the game1. This time frame is suggested to provide players with enough time to have a meaningful impact on the game, contributing to their team's performance. By introducing fresh legs and tactical adjustments during this period, teams have a greater chance of influencing the game in their favour.

Figure 1 - Number of substitutions during football (soccer) matches according to match period and substitution number (first, second or third)1

The match status (if a team is winning or losing) has also been found to influence the timing of substitutions. Research suggests that when a team is losing, the first substitution should be made before the 53rd minute2. This substitution is also usually made before the winning team makes any substitutions. This is thought to inject new energy and more strategic changes for a goal. On the other hand, teams that are winning or drawing may opt for later substitutions to maintain their advantage or consolidate their position.

A trend in substitute timing has also been observed for offensive and defensive substitutions. Defensive substitutions tended to occur later in the match, while offensive substitutions were made earlier3. This indicated that teams are more likely to introduce fresh attacking options earlier in the game to increase their chances of scoring, while defensive reinforcements are typically brought on to secure the result in the later stages.

Impact On Team Performance 

Substitutions have also been found to offer the benefit of enhancing the team's physical performance efficiency, thereby contributing to positive game outcomes. Previous research has indicated that substitutions have positively affected the match outcome and goal difference in matches played4&5. As a game progresses, players often experience fatigue both mentally and physically. This is where substitutions play a vital role, by replacing tired or injured players with fresh ones, teams can inject renewed energy and athleticism into the game. This can elevate the overall intensity and pace of the team's play, leading to improved speed, agility, and endurance. 

One study found that substitutes play a distinct role in matches, particularly in enhancing offensive effectiveness. Using key performance indicators such as total distance, sprints, and goals scored, highlighted that although substitute players had a lower overall activity intensity compared to starting players, they possessed a higher level of technical action. This suggested that they were able to make an immediate impact on the game, specifically to goal-scoring opportunities. These findings emphasise the potential influence of substitutions on offensive effectiveness, with substitutes bringing fresh perspectives and impactful contributions to the field4.

"although substitute players had a lower overall activity intensity compared to starting players, they possessed a higher level of technical action. This suggested that they were able to make an immediate impact on the game, specifically to goal-scoring opportunities"

Conversely other studies have found that substitutes can enhance the performance of players who have competed the entire match, improving physical variables. Substitutes were reported to exhibit a higher total distance covered, number of sprints, and fast runs relative to playing time, showcasing their ability to maintain and even elevate physical performance when introduced (5). This can lead to improved speed, agility, and endurance, allowing the team to sustain a higher level of physical output throughout the match.

Overall, the impact of making substitutions is key for positively impacting a team’s physical output and match outcomes. This injection of fresh energy enhances offensive effectiveness and also optimises the performance of players. Substitutes play a vital role in maintaining this efficiency throughout a match. Coaches can strategically utilise substitutions to maximise the teams overall physical performance which will ultimately influence the match outcome. The timing of making these substitutions is also important to ensure they have enough time on the pitch to make a meaningful impact. The importance of substitutions in football is a continuing area of research and more knowledge and data will help to further shape the dynamics of the matches to help teams optimise their performance.

Analysing Substitution Impact

After matches are complete, coaches reflect and analyse the teams performance. With the knowledge of substitution times they can see if these players made a positive impact on the game. This can be observed on various aspects of the game such as match outcome, for example if a goal was scored after a substitution. The physical performance of the team can also be observed after a substitution by analysing any changes in external metric such as metres per minute and sprint distance.

The PlayerData App offers an easy way for you to monitor all of this using our new substitution detection feature. The app allows you to set your starting squad and from there it will automatically detect substitutions during the game. Your substitutions will appear on your match events timeline and each player's data will be updated accordingly. This provides a valuable insight into the time players spend on the field and highlights the contribution they made to the game.

Additionally, you also have the option to enhance your match data by including other significant match events such as red cards and corner kicks. This can add to your overall game analysis and provide deeper insights into the match session. For more information on how to utilise this new substitution detection feature check out and for adding extra match events you can find out more here


  1. Miguel-Angel Gomez, Carlos Lago-Peñas & L. Adam Owen (2016) The influence of substitutions on elite soccer teams’ performance, International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport, 16:2, 553-568.
  2. Ezequiel Rey, Joaquín Lago-Ballesteros & Alexis Padrón-Cabo (2015) Timing and tactical analysis of player substitutions in the UEFA Champions League, International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport, 15:3, 840-850.
  3. Del  Corral,  J.,  Pestana-Barros,  C.,  Prieto-Rodríguez,  J.  (2008).  The  determinants  of soccer  player  substitutions:  a  survival  analysis  of  the  Spanish  soccer  league. Journal of Sports Economics, 9, 160-172.
  4. Bradley  S.,   Lago-Peñas,   C., andRey,(2014). Evaluation   of   the   match performances  of  substitution  players  in  elite  soccer. International  Journal  of Sports Physiology and Performance, 9, 415-424.
  5. Myers, Bret R. (2012) "A Proposed Decision Rule for the Timing of Soccer Substitutions" Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports, vol. 8, no. 1.

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