Last month, FIFA confirmed they will allow teams to use up to five substitutions per match, instead of the usual three, as a temporary measure to help cope with potential fixture congestion in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak.
Whilst the Premier League haven’t officially confirmed their decision to use FIFA’s token gift that would presumably limit injury and provide opportunities to younger players, Aston Villa’s squad will be tested to the maximum – that’s a certainty.
It will be 100 days since Villa last played a competitive game when they take on Sheffield United in what could be the first Premier League tie to kick start Project Restart and for John McGinn – who many are pinning their hopes on – almost six months will have passed since his last appearance.
Like every other club in the top flight, Villa’s fitness levels and physical condition will be tested, and potentially exposed if they don’t hit the ground-running against Chris Wilder’s Blades or Lamps’ Chelsea.
But whilst the Premier League has also muted their desire to continue using VAR during the restart, us Villans need to remain positive – so here’s a look at the players that might well become cult heroes if their impact can keep Villa above the dotted line come August.
The Bundesliga and La Liga (due to resume on June 11) will adopt this protocol which extends a matchday squad to 20 – meaning Villa will have to include two more players than in a typical matchday squad.
An impact substitution is often the difference between winning or losing – for some. The likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool will all have the leisure of replacing a Champions League winner for a full-fledge international in a single substitution, five times over. For Villa, it’ll be a chance for youngsters and those on the fringes of the first team to get minutes, earn new deals and make their name in a Villa shirt – an opportunity they wouldn’t have if it weren’t for the new ruling.
Having made the swap across the city last year, Jota impressed in pre-season and in the first month of the campaign that saw the Spaniard earn acclaim for his best performance at Villa Park against Everton in August.
Since then, Trezeguet and Anwar El Ghazi have come and gone on the right and Jack Grealish has been a revelation on the left flank, meaning Jota’s game time has been limited to the odd cup appearance.
His last goal contribution came against Brighton – the opener in a League Cup 4th round fixture en-route to a final he didn’t appear in. Though Smith knew more important ties would await for his Villa side perilously close to relegation and Jota could be a wildcard come June 17.
Jota won’t have the chance to boost form and confidence in a pre-season before Villa’s mini ten-game shot at survival, but after a host of in-house games perhaps Jota can persuade Smith to hand him more minutes. His creativity and eye for a pass could be a huge plus for Villa, who’ve lacked chance creation for goal-getter Samatta aside from talisman Grealish.
On the flanks, Anwar El Ghazi and Trezeguet have flip-flopped in and out of the team for the most part of the campaign, becoming a like for like substitution more often than not. Though, with fitness levels and fresh legs potentially vital to alterations after such a long lay-off, either winger could give Villa a boost in wide areas.
In general, Smith’s hardly been spoilt for quality attacking options having lost Wesley and John McGinn for considerable parts of the campaign, but with Keinan Davis finally shrugging off a niggle of his own, and some promising forwards coming from the youth ranks, the extra substitute law could serve Villa well.
Young American Indiana Vassilev penned a new two-year deal last month after making an impression on Smith who gave him his debut in an FA Cup defeat to Fulham in January. The forward has made impacts off the bench against Brighton and Watford in the Premier League, with his cameo’s helping Villa score two vital goals in securing four points against fellow relegation-threatened sides.
His youthful exuberance and pace against sluggish defences closing into the final stages of a game can free up space and press tight gaps against some of the better sides that Villa will have to play who play a certain brand of football.
The very same can be said for Louie Barry, the boy wonder who every Villa fan will want Smith to include in a matchday squad from now until West Ham away. Whilst his time will certainly come after this season, it’ll be interesting to see if Barry gets a shot at first-team football due to the circumstances.
Options up top
Before we mention every forward at the club, Borja Baston probably won’t be the game-changing player fans are looking for, but perhaps Davis can provide that spark Villa may require. After shaking off another injury to feature in the Carabao Cup final in March, Keinan has always given a willing channel run and an offering of brute strength as a target man.
Smith has, for a long time admired Davis’ ability, and has trusted him since the beginning of the season by turning down offers in the Championship to keep his second striker behind of Wesley and now Mbwana Ally Samatta.
Villa won’t be making five alterations of winger and strikers – simply we don’t have the numbers nor quality to justify it. So, for midfielders, none other than Conor Hourihane might force his way into Villa folklore with an off the bench cameo to steal some points.
His better goal-per-game ration than any other Villa midfielder since David Platt speaks volumes of his technical ability and eye for a goal – proven over three seasons at Villa Park. Even in the top-flight Hourihane has produced assists and goals worthy of winning games and sealing all-important wins this season.
However Villa chooses to use the five substitute cap – if the Premier League implement the rule – it’ll test Smith’s tactical nous and the player’s commitment to the cause, with each one of them sure to be called upon at some point in over the next month or so.