Squad depth is everything in modern football. Today, football is more than a job for professional players: it is a lifestyle and a 24/7 commitment. It’s also led to a compact schedule resulting in many injury issues that FIFA should address.
With multiple training sessions a week as well as multiple competitions, it often meaning multiple games in a week. A lot of stress is put on players both physically and mentally. The importance of squad rotation is more important than ever. .
Squad depth goes beyond physical and mental preparation—it plays a hand in tactical set-up and squad-building. For example, the modern rule allowing five substitutions instead of three has given managers more options from the bench to potentially utilize in-game. However, this has proven to be a double-edged sword. Smaller clubs on tighter budgets simply cannot afford to have as much star quality among their subs as the bigger sides do, leading to complaints of bias and a lack of fairness.
Past examples of poor squad depth
With this in mind, how will squad depth affect the Premier League this season? Last season Chelsea suffered from too much depth, with multiple coaches trying and failing to keep players happy and find any form of squad cohesion and rhythm. On the contrary, Arsenal’s title challenge faded away following injuries to key players, and both Manchester United and Liverpool have suffered from a lack of depth in recent seasons, largely due to congested fixture schedules and large injury lists.
Are Smaller Sides at a Disadvantage?
With this being said, how can sides on smaller budgets hope to even compete? For the upcoming 2023/2024 season, Brighton and Hove Albion will compete in the Europa League, their first ever season competing in an elite European competition. However, this will mean a mid-week game, often involving travel, atop an English top-flight game on the weekend. Brighton has won the hearts of many neutral fans in recent seasons. Yet, the Seagulls may struggle to compete on multiple fronts this season, particularly if injuries begin to pile up.
Newcastle and Aston Villa find themselves in similar situations. As sides who, though not on tight budgets necessarily, may struggle to maintain last season’s form due to competing in European competition once more. It may yet prove to be a redemption season for traditional big teams who struggled last season – the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham – due to these factors not proving to be as much of an issue. Tottenham has no external competition this season, whilst Liverpool has spent big to replenish their squad for the upcoming season.
Squad depth and the title race
However, the biggest surprise in the Premier League 2023/2024 season may well revolve around Manchester City’s lack of squad depth. In recent seasons Manchester City has always seemingly had more players than every other side, or at the very least, more star players. Yet, following a historic treble-winning previous campaign, Manchester City is looking less prepared for the upcoming season.
Riyad Mahrez and Ilkay Gündoğan have both departed, whilst the futures of Bernardo Silva and Kyle Walker are all still unconfirmed. More worryingly for Manchester City fans, title rivals Arsenal has seriously strengthened their squad depth over the last few weeks. Arrivals such as Declan Rice, Kai Havertz and Jurriën Timber all cover positions that were either light in numbers or needed strengthening. As a result, this should bolster their readiness to mount another title challenge and gives Mikel Arteta formation options.
Previewing the upcoming season
Squad depth is one of the most important aspects of a club in the modern game, as it can make or break the success of a season. It may be too early to make anything beyond bold predictions, however, it is likely squad depth will prove to be an issue for the aforementioned Brighton, Aston Villa and Newcastle. The Magpies may yet prove to be an exception due to their financial backing, but competing in Europe can always derail a league campaign, as West Ham found out last season.
At the top of the table, while one can never rule out Manchester City, if there is one weakness to the Cityzens, it is squad depth. The 2023/2024 season may well be defined by the squad size of many elite sides.
Thus, the end of the season will answer a few burning questions ahead of the upcoming Premier League season. Will Arsenal’s big spending pay off? Can smaller clubs still keep up despite lacking the funds and depth to compete on multiple fronts? Only time will tell.