Why Do Football Managers Make Last Minute Changes

7 Reasons Why Football Managers Make Last Minute Changes

Substitutions are very common in football matches. In this process, a player comes on the pitch in place of his fellow teammate.

The manager is in charge of these substitutions and may decide to use them at any time during the game. Substitutions can significantly impact the game’s result, especially late minute substitutions.

Here is what you need to know about why managers make last-minute changes:

What is the use of last-minute changes?

The manager usually has a laid-out tactical approach to the game. In order to maintain or change this approach, he will make use of substitutions.

Substitutions made towards the end of the match reflect the manager’s will on the match result. As such, managers use late substitutions to put their team in the desired direction.

Here are some of the reasons below:

To defend the result

To maintain a tight lead or draw, the manager may choose to substitute a more defensive-minded player instead of an attacking one

By doing this, managers aim to strengthen the team’s defence and prevent opponents from scoring any further.

This strategy is widespread for managers at all levels.

Diego Simeone utilised this strategy during the 2021/22 UEFA Champions League Round of 16 match between Manchester United and Atletico Madrid.

In the 90th minute, Simeone substituted Atletico striker Jao Felix for a defender, Felipe, to defend his one-nil lead. This move was a success as the match ended in a 0-1 win for Atletico.

Giving players minutes

The manager also uses late substitutions to give their players a couple of minutes. Usually, this occurs when the game is in a comfortable position with no drastic change expected.

The manager can then decide to bring on a player to gain an appearance. Young starlets are usually the beneficiaries of such schemes.

Shola Shoretire was handed his debut for Manchester United in this manner. United’s manager, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, brought on the youngster at the 88th minute of the home victory against Newcastle.

This appearance made Shoretire one of the youngest footballers to ever play for the Red Devils

Managers also give late substitution appearances to veteran players.

Jose Mourinho gave a few minutes to Marco Materazzi towards the end of the UEFA Champions League Final in 2010

Mourinho’s Inter already had the match in the bag with a 2-0 lead. However, Diego Milito was substituted in the 92nd minute for the Italian defender to make an appearance.


Once a player gets injured during the game, the manager is obligated to replace him to avoid complications.

Likewise, managers are always cautious of injuries to their players, especially the crucial players. Thus, if a player shows any signs of a knock or unwellness, managers are quick to make a substitution.

In March 2022, Ferland Mendy was a victim of an injury in the final minutes of Real Madrid’s league game against Mallorca. The coach, Carlo Ancelotti, quickly replaced him with Marcelo.

The Brazilian also made an impact on the game by delivering a precise cross for Karim Benzema’s second goal to seal the match.

To calm the pace of the game/waste time

In an intense game, the manager may delay the game flow and make a lengthy substitution to waste some time. Managers usually use this strategy when the team is in a comfortable position.

Jose Bordalas utilised two late substitutions at the 94th minute mark to waste time during his Valencia side’s encounter with Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey semifinals.

Marcos Andre and Uros Racic came on for Hugo Duro and Ilaix Moriba. The match ended in a 1-1 draw but Valencia eventually won the tie in the second leg and progressed to the final.

For penalty-shootouts

A knockout game tied after full-time and extra-time will be decided by penalties. In this case, the manager may bring on some of his preferred penalty takers for the impending shootouts.

Once the Euro 2020 final between England and Italy approached penalties after a deadlock, Gareth Southgate of England decided to bring in two players for the penalties. 

At the 120th minute mark, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford were subbed in. However, the strategy was ultimately unsuccessful as both players missed their penalties, and England lost the final.

The manager may also substitute the goalkeeper for his preferred option in anticipation of the impending penalties.

Louis Van Gaal made such a decision during the 2014 World Cup. In the Quarterfinals, his Netherlands side was held to a goalless draw by Costa Rica after 120 minutes of play.

Van Gaal decided to make a daring move by substituting Tim Krul for Jasper Cilessen at the 120th minute. This unusual tactic ultimately paid off as Krul saved two penalties and the dutch proceeded to the Semifinals after a 4-3 penalties win.

To push for a winner

When the team remains in a disadvantageous position close to the game’s end, it is common for the side’s manager to inject fresh energy through substitutions. 

This usually happens in knockout matches. In such situations, ‘super-subs’ shine and turn the result around. 

A famous example of this scenario is the 1999 Champions League Final which saw Manchester United triumph over Bayern Munich.

United was behind 1-0 for most of the game after Bayern’s early goal until the manager, Alex Ferguson, introduced Ole-Gunnar Solskjaer in the 80th minute.

From his introduction onto the pitch, Solskjaer played with relentless energy in an attempt to find the equaliser. A fellow substitute, Teddy Sheringham, scored in the 91st minute of injury time.

Finally, the super-sub Solskjaer himself scored in the 93rd minute to win the trophy.

To avoid a second yellow/accumulated suspension

Suppose a player on the team has received a yellow card. In that case, the manager will decide to eliminate the risk of suspension or sending off by substituting such a player.

On most occasions, an important player is substituted to avoid future suspensions due to yellow card accumulation or red card

In the 2021 Europa League Final against Manchester United,Villareal’s manager, Unai Emery, decided to substitute Mario Gaspar for Juan Foyth

This substitution was because Foyth was already on a yellow card. As such, Emery subbed him to avoid a further red card since the game was headed into extra-time.


Managers utilise last minute changes for a variety of reasons. These substitutions may directly influence the result depending on the context of the game and the manager’s instructions.

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