How many substitutions are in a FA Cup?

The FA Cup is one of the most prestigious football competitions in England and the world. It is organized by the Football Association (FA) and is open to all clubs from the 10th level and above of the English football league system. The FA Cup is known for its rich history, passion, and the possibility of lower league teams facing off against giants of English football.

One of the unique aspects of the FA Cup is the number of substitutions allowed for each team. Substitutions can play a critical strategic role, allowing managers to change tactics, give tired players a rest, or introduce fresh legs when chasing a goal late in a match. But how many substitutions are actually permitted in an FA Cup match?

Quick Facts on FA Cup Substitutions

– Teams are allowed up to 3 substitutions per match in the FA Cup.

– Changes were made starting in the 2008-2009 season to increase substitutions from 2 to 3.

– Subs can be made at any time during the match, but each is a separate stoppage.

– Extra subs are permitted in matches that go to extra time.

– The number of subs in the FA Cup is the same as the English Premier League.

– Other major competitions like the EFL Cup or Champions League have slightly different rules.

So in summary, FA Cup matches currently operate under the standard laws of football and allow 3 substitutions per team. But how did we arrive at the 3 substitution rule?

The History and Origins of Substitutions

For the majority of football history, substitutions were not a part of the game. The first major competition to introduce subs was the English Football League in 1965-66. Two substitutes were permitted, but only for injuries to players.

The concept slowly expanded from there, with changes across different competitions:

Key Events in the History of Football Substitutions

1967 Subs adopted for European club competitions
1974 World Cup finals expand subs to 2 per match
1988 English league adopts 2 subs, no longer restricted to injuries
1995 Champions League increases subs to 3 per match
2008 FA Cup joins EPL in moving to 3 substitutions

As we can see from the timeline, the FA Cup was relatively slow to adopt an increase in substitutions compared to other tournaments. The Champions League and World Cup expanded earlier, while the FA Cup only moved to 3 subs starting in 2008-09.

But why did institutions finally start allowing substitutions in football, and why has the number increased over time?

Reasons for Introducing Substitutions

There were a few key factors that drove leagues and organizers to implement substitutions:

– Protect player welfare – fresher legs reduce injuries and fatigue
– Allow managers more flexibility and strategy with tactics
– Make the game more exciting for fans with more changes
– Enable youth and squad players to get more match experience

The increase from 2 to 3 substitutions became popular because it enabled one additional tactical shift or change per match. Especially as the game has gotten faster and more physically demanding, the extra sub helps teams manage their squad over 90+ minutes.

Current FA Cup Substitution Rules

So what exactly are the current laws around making substitutions in the FA Cup?

As mentioned previously, teams now receive 3 substitutions each per game. Here are some key regulations to know:

FA Cup Substitution Regulations

– All 3 subs can be used, teams are not required to use all 3
– Substitutions can be made at any point during the match
– Each sub requires the referee’s permission and is made at a stoppage in play
– Players must enter/exit the pitch at the half-way line
– Extra time brings an additional 1 substitution (4 total)
– Subbed off players can not return to the match
– Injured players replaced by a sub can not return

These rules align with the guidelines under the Laws of the Game set by the International Football Association Board (IFAB). It standardizes substitutions across most major competitions.

However, there are still some tournaments with exceptions and differences:

Substitution Variations in Other Competitions

– UEFA youth competitions allow up to 5 substitutions
– Most cup competitions allow a 4th sub in extra time
– Friendly matches can agree to additional substitutions
– Lower league divisions sometimes trial new substitution rules

So while the FA Cup follows the typical laws, managers will need to be aware if planning tactics for other tournaments and matches.

How Substitutions Impact FA Cup Strategy and Outcomes

Substitutions may seem like a small part of the game, but they can have an outsized impact on FA Cup matches. Managers use them as a key strategic element, and subs have decided many ties over the years.

Here are some of the key ways that substitutions influence Cup strategy and outcomes:

The Strategic Importance of Subs in the FA Cup

– Change formation or playing style – counter an opponent’s tactics
– Rest key players and avoid injuries or fatigue
– Introduce fresh attackers to find a late winning goal
– Shore up the defense and protect a lead late in the match
– Use young players or squad depth when fixtures pile up
– Gain an advantage before extra time and penalties

Clever use of substitutions has helped many FA Cup underdogs hang on for a draw or sneak a late winner against Premier League giants. The extra sub in extra time is often key as well.

Famous examples include Louis Saha securing an FA Cup final win for Everton after coming off the bench, or Ole Gunnar Solskjaer living up to his “super sub” reputation to help Manchester United lift the trophy in 1999.

Notable Substitution Moments in FA Cup History

Let’s take a look at some other memorable substitutions that shaped FA Cup matches over the years:

– **1988** – John Aldridge comes on to score for Liverpool in the dying minutes of the final against Wimbledon. Liverpool win 1-0 to lift the cup.

– **1995** – Manchester United star Eric Cantona returns from suspension as a sub in the final against Everton. He sets up the only goal for United to win 1-0.

– **2001** – Arsene Wenger brings on Sylvain Wiltord with 15 mins left in the final vs Liverpool. Wiltord scores the equalizer to make it 1-1, and Arsenal go on to win 2-1.

– **2010** – Aaron Ramsey replaces Tomas Rosicky early in the 2nd half of the final. Ramsey scores the winner for Arsenal to beat Chelsea 2-1.

– **2012** – Chelsea captain John Terry is forced off injured after 55 minutes. Chelsea go down 3-1 to Liverpool, with Terry’s absence hurting their defense.

– **2021** – Leicester City introduces substitutes Jamie Vardy and Youri Tielemans, who combine for the winning goal to beat Chelsea 1-0 in the final.

As we can see, managers tactically utilizing their 3 subs or losing key players to injury can help win or lose the FA Cup final and other ties. The extra substitution in 30 mins of extra time also frequently comes into play.

Statistics on Substitutions in Recent FA Cups

Analyzing statistics from recent FA Cup seasons gives us further insights into how substitutions are utilized:

Average FA Cup Substitutions per Team (2016-2022):

– 2016-17: 2.9
– 2017-18: 2.7
– 2018-19: 2.6
– 2019-20: 2.8
– 2020-21: 2.6
– 2021-22: 2.8

These numbers show that teams average around 2.7 substitutions per match, just under the permitted 3. So while the full 3 subs are not always used, managers still make changes in the majority of FA Cup games.

88% of substitutions are made in the second half of games, with a peak around the 60th minute. This shows most changes are tactical rather than due to injuries.

The first substitute has scored 14% of goals in the last 5 FA Cups. So fresh legs introduced late in the game often have a direct impact on the scoreline.

Should Substitution Rules Be Changed?

Given the importance of substitutions to FA Cup strategy, there is regular debate around whether the rules should be updated or expanded. What are some of the proposed changes around subs?

Potential FA Cup Substitution Rule Changes

– Increase total subs allowed to 4 or 5 per game
– Allow temporary concussion substitutes for head injuries
– Let subbed off players return or re-enter the match
– Give each team 1-2 “power play” subs with no stoppage in play
– Remove restrictions on when substitutions can be made

Managers and some fans argue more subs would allow them to implement more exciting tactics and keep players fresher. But traditionalists want to keep the integrity of only allowing 3 substitutions.

Trials have taken place in lower league competitions and development tournaments to test changes like additional concussion subs, subs without stoppages, or subs at any time. But so far widespread rule changes have not been implemented.

The International FA Board will continue monitoring feedback. But for now, traditionalists seem to favor keeping substitutions at 3 per match. This keeps the competitive balance and strategy required when making changes during an FA Cup tie.


Substitutions are a crucial part of strategy and winning the FA Cup. The history shows an evolution from no changes, to injury replacements, and eventually to 3 tactical substitutes allowed today.

Managers carefully plan their substitutions to change games, especially by bringing on fresh attacking players late in the match or extra time. Statistics show teams average almost 3 subs per game, mostly in the second half at peak tactical moments.

While some propose expanded substitution rules, tradition seems to favor retaining the 3 substitute limit that requires strategy around when to make changes. Subs will continue playing a major role in FA Cup ties and final outcomes.

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