Premier League substitutions: 6. Jürgen Klopp

Liverpool and Man United played a close but rather dull game at Anfield Road last night (17/10/2016). The Red Devils held the Reds to only 9 shots, their lowest tally in a Premier League home game in the last 2 seasons (the current and last season that is), while they themselves also could not get more than 7 attempts.

xG map (by @Caley_graphics)
xG map (by @Caley_graphics)

But I won’t discuss on-field decisions nor playing styles here. Rather I want to focus on something less discussed in this game: the substitutions. The match (as probably most matches where Mourinho is involved) was described as a tactical battle, but the substitutions – which can provide a tactical edge in a game – came rather late. Klopp implemented his first change in minute 60 and brought on a second and third sub only 5 minutes before the end of the 90 minutes. Mourinho brought on his first super sub only in the 77th minute. Here’s an overview:

Liverpool - Manchester United substitutions
Liverpool – Manchester United substitutions (image from

As Jürgen Klopp seemed to be the least happy with the draw (and also because his name will probably generate more clicks, ha!) I’ll focus on him in this short analysis.

Klopp’s Sub profile

For Klopp this meant his 38th game in charge of a Premier League game. In those 38 games he almost always (37 of those matches) used all his subs, but time wise he used his changes rather late.

A notable statistics is that when his team not in a winning state Klopp tends to wait longer with bringing on substitutes than the league average. When his side ís winning the contrary is the case: he is more inclined to sub early (again, against the league average). A bit strange, as the opposite seems more logical.

This is his profile:

Jürgen Klopp substitutions
Jürgen Klopp’s substitutions

Having used all his subs in all except one of the 38 games, Klopp is well above the league average for the amount of subs he uses. No manager with at least 10 games since the start of the 2012/13 averages more subs per game than the German (2,97).

Comparing him with the other 53 managers that directed at least 10 games there are only 3 of them who wait longer with their first sub when they are not winning the game, 10 in case of the second sub and only one (Roberto Mancini) for the last change. Meaning that Klopp’s subs come on late. The same thing we saw in the Liverpool – United match

As Anderson & Sally, using a study from Myers, advocate in their book “The Number Game” it can be damaging to a team’s chances in a game to make late substitutions. They also mention Jürgen Klopp as a reluctant substituter.

In this blog I came to the same conclusion that substituting early when losing enhances the chances of getting at least a point from the game significantly.

The impact of Jürgen Klopp’s changes

Without considering subs one statistic about Liverpool’s first 38 Premier League games under Klopp is interesting to mention: from half time to full time Liverpool improved 8 points, the fifth best of all Premier League teams in that time (Arsenal and Spurs lead with 12 points). Klopp’s Liverpool seems to do fairly well in that aspect.

But back to the impact of the subs. When only considering second half subs not involving goalkeepers, the happy German made 55 subs when losing or drawing, after 13 (24%) of which the game state improved and in 5 (9%) cases Liverpool were worse off. Meaning that in 67% nothing changed. Considering the difference between the result at the time of the sub and the final results Liverpool averages an increase of 0,27 points per substitution. That latter figure does not sound that bad, but there are 17 managers that have done better, also some with not as quality squads as Liverpool:

Substitutions made when losing or drawing (2012/13 until week 8 of 2016/17)
Substitutions made when losing or drawing (2012/13 until week 8 of 2016/17)

Considering this discussion it is very interesting to see that Alex Ferguson and Roberto Mancini, top coaches when having to turn around a game, made as late team changes as Jürgen Klopp does; around the 72nd-73rd minute.

Something not directly readable from the table is that when drawing Jürgen Klopp’s teams tend to lose more than that they win; averaging a 0,04 point increase from that game state after subbing (from drawing to losing results in -1 point, to winning +2). Only 13 of 46 managers have a worse record.

But then this table, containing an average of goals and assists given by players that were subbed on when losing or drawing:

Goals and assists from subs (managers with at least 10 games)
Goals and assists from subs when brought on when losing or drawing (managers with at least 10 games)

Jürgen seems to bring on the right subs when not winning; having quite a few that scored a goal (all coming last season: Benteke vs Chelsea and Swansea, Allen vs Arsenal, Lallana vs Norwich and Origi vs WBA) or provided an assist (Benteke vs Arsenal and Lallana vs Norwich). There is no manager over the last 4 years that tops that. Only 22% of Klopp’s subs are attacking (from what I can see from the data: attackers for midfielders/defenders and midfielders for defenders), which is below the league average of 26%.


At first I was a bit sceptic about Klopp’s habit of late substitutions. And I am still. Although he does seem to pick the right player to come on the pitch – as their goalscoring records is the best for any Premier League manager over the last 4 years and a bit – the general impact of his subs on the team are about average (the 0,27 point increase), but that means that he is quite behind some top managers like Ferguson (0,85), Mancini (0,80), Villas Boas (0,62), Ranieri (0,50), Mourinho (0,39), Wenger (0,39) and Koeman (0,38). And more or less the same as previous Liverpool manager Benítez (0,23). There is a lot to win here.

An interesting note was that the managers with the best sub record (Fergie and Mancini) were also managers that tend to sub later in the game. Hence, based on this data, it is difficult to conclude that Liverpool could fare well if Klopp would make earlier substitutions. Maybe it is sample size of this data set (n=46 for Ferguson and n=55 for Klopp are not great). Other research did suggest that, at least when losing, earlier subs provided a significant advantage and I remain of the opinion that Liverpool could (further) improve if Klopp starts to make earlier changes. He has the squad size.






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