It has been over three months since we experienced normalcy on the football pitch.
Leagues suspended — some even abandoned — managers and players have had to wait patiently for a verdict on the remaining four major European leagues.
Following heated debates and fruitful debates, the authorities gave the go-ahead, albeit with some essence-altering rules.
Paying off weeks of rigorous training and extensive health checks, Germany’s Bundesliga became the first major league to bring European football to our living rooms in the post-COVID-19 era.
We have enjoyed three game weeks since the restart in mid-May, and the displays have been more than satisfactory.
All 18 Bundesliga sides have given their all to hit the ground running, despite the painful constraints and lack of match sharpness. Without fans cheering and booing from the stands, the morale has taken a hit.
However, that hasn’t kept the teams from putting on a show for the supporters cheering on from the safety of their homes.
Separate tunnels, no handshakes, and muted celebrations — none of these restraints do the game any favours. Yet, they hardly possess the power to alter the course of the games as the new substitution rule does.
The five-subs rule
As per the new guidelines, all teams would be allowed to make five substitutions over the course of a 90-minute fixture.
The decision-makers over at FIFA believe this rule to be an integral part of post-pandemic football, but the judgment has not sat well with all parties involved.
With the next campaign just on the horizon, all leagues are returning with congested schedules, offering little to no recovery time.
Tight scheduling combined with a lengthy absence from all forms of football could escalate injuries.
And FIFA, keeping the two factors in mind, has decided to let clubs use five substitutes per game, hoping that it would shield the players from serious damages.
The Federation has also stated that coaches would still have only three opportunities to bring in the five substitutes, not five.
Most clubs have embraced the rule with open arms, knowing it would ultimately help in keeping their players fit for the remainder of the season.
The former Inter Milan manager believes injuries are an unavoidable part of the game, and the new rule will not help much in that regard.
The 62-year-old may very well be the most vocal about this change, but he certainly would not be the only one.
The new rule may have been at the bitter end of a few harsh words, but FIFA will stand its ground until the seasons are concluded.
Out of the four major European football leagues, Bundesliga and Premier League have standout leaders in Bayern Munich and Liverpool, but the remaining two leagues — Serie A and La Liga — are far from settled.
Currently, Serie A leaders, Juventus, are only a point ahead of second-placed Lazio, while La Liga ‘Campeones’ Barcelona have a slender two-point lead over Real Madrid.
The Bianconeri arguably have the best squad in Italy, but Lazio, too, could get a fighting chance thanks to the two extra substitutes. With an average age of 29.6 years, Juventus have the oldest squad in Italy.
Lazio, on the other hand, rank mid-way with a mean squad age of 27.4.
The demanding football schedule would certainly stretch the squads thin, and the injection of youth, especially off the bench, might tip the scales one way or the other.
Spanish first-division, too, is preparing for an intense finale, at the top of the table.
Leaders, Barcelona, do have a two-point advantage over second-placed Real Madrid, but Los Blancos may have come out stronger out of the quarantine.
Quique Setién, of course, has his superstars to fall back on, but Zinedine Zidane’s Madrid seems a lot more prepared for the unforgiving schedule.
Except for Luka Jovic — who is training indoors — all players are nearing 100% and are raring to go.
Marco Asensio, Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard, Vinicius Jr, Mariano Diaz, and Karim Benzema — Zidane have a host of attacking options to choose from, which should help him fix the inconsistent showings in front of goal.
The relegation and Champions League battles could also go right down to the wire, as all contenders would be forced to rotate their squads as the football leagues wear off.
The managers won’t be able to solely rely on their best players anymore. They’ll have to improvise, adapt, and conquer; one game at a time. It is time for them to use the reserve bench, make heroes out of the ordinary.