To win an individual game a talented XI is required. But to win trophies, a deep squad is imperative.
For the established elite, their objective is clear: compete and win titles, all of them. The strength of a starting side is forever scrutinised and debated, we’ve all come across the ‘how xxx will line-up in 2019/20’ headlines.
Yet it’s actually beneath the first-choice selections where trophies are won.
To best gauge a barometer for which clubs are capable of securing domestic and/or European success, it’s accurate to examine the quality options at their disposal from the substitutes bench.
So, it got us thinking, which side has the best bench from Europe’s top-five leagues?
Sticking with a quota of seven players per bench with a forecasted XI, we’ve slated and rated the options for 10 big teams.
All statistics gathered from transfermarkt.com
LIVERPOOL | TOTAL SQUAD MARKET VALUE = €1.07bn
STRONGEST XI 4-3-3: Alisson Becker; Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joel Matip, Virgil van Dijk, Andy Robertson; Georginio Wijnaldum, Fabinho, Naby Keita; Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane
BENCH: Adrian, Joe Gomez, James Milner, Jordan Henderson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Xherdan Shaqiri, Divock Origi
MISSING OUT: Nathaniel Clyne, Rhian Brewster, Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana
Liverpool’s approach to the transfer window was like a quick grocery shop. When only milk and eggs are required, there’s really no need to flush money down the drain on a gold-plated toilet.
Indeed, Jurgen Klopp’s squad was good enough for the Champions League trophy and a 97-point haul last term, and so not much changed.
The German instead opted to further enhance his squad on the training ground, and looking at the strength of his bench, it’s a fair approach.
Goalkeeper Adrian was acquired on a free transfer and the 32-year-old is proving to be stylistically more suitable than the frozen-footed Simon Mignolet.
In front of him, Joe Gomez formed an outstanding partnership with Virgil van Dijk last season, but when injured, Joel Matip emerged in his place and has been exemplary, seeing a very capable centre-back relegated to the bench.
There’s experience and leadership through the eyes and mouths of James Milner and Jordan Henderson, the former bringing versatility across numerous positions.
If in need of attacking impetus there’s the leg drive of Xherdan Shaqiri, the bowling-ball qualities of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and the precision finishing of Divock Origi.
It’s a great mix for Klopp to lean on, albeit missing some superstar quality, yet it is certainly an above-average bench selection.
BENCH AVERAGE AGE = 27.5
BENCH INTERNATIONAL CAPS = 261
BENCH RATING = 7/10
MANCHESTER CITY | TOTAL SQUAD MARKET VALUE = €1.26bn
STRONGEST XI 4-3-3: Ederson; Kyle Walker, John Stones, Aymeric Laporte, Benjamin Mendy; Rodri, Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva; Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane
BENCH: Claudio Bravo, Nicolas Otamendi, Joao Cancelo, Ilkay Gundogan, David Silva, Riyad Mahrez, Gabriel Jesus
MISSING OUT: Fernandinho, Phil Foden, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Angelino
Jose Mourinho was dead serious when he prophesied a top-four finish for Manchester City’s ‘B Team’ and his analysis carries a lot of merit.
To most managers the idea of two elite options at every position is fanciful thinking, but for Pep Guardiola it’s a necessity.
The intensity of the Catalan’s playing style coupled with the club’s thirst to not just compete but win on all fronts, demands a deep squad.
The result is a bench which is chief among the very best in Europe. Claudio Bravo is a deeply experienced goalkeeper and a perfect understudy to Ederson.
Elsewhere, Nicolas Otamendi, despite his advancing years, remains a respected centre-back and is actually featuring heavily already this season.
Full-backs to Guardiola are like designer bags to women, he can’t seem to have enough of them and possessing the technical qualities of Joao Cancelo is quite frankly absurd.
If Guardiola wants to exert more midfield control there’s only the league’s best short-passer in David Silva and the cerebral intelligence of Ilkay Gundogan.
If City need goals? Well, there’s the magic of Riyad Mahrez, a star in literally any other side, and Brazil’s starting No9 Gabriel Jesus. What more could be asked for?
BENCH AVERAGE AGE = 29
BENCH INTERNATIONAL CAPS = 451
BENCH RATING = 10/10
TOTTENHAM | TOTAL SQUAD MARKET VALUE = €985.5m
STRONGEST XI 4-2-3-1: Hugo Lloris; Serge Aurier, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Danny Rose; Tanguy Ndombele, Harry Winks; Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, Son Heung-min; Harry Kane
BENCH: Paulo Gazzaniga, Eric Dier, Davinson Sanchez, Giovani Lo Celso, Moussa Sissoko, Lucas Moura, Erik Lamela
MISSING OUT: Victor Wanyama, Ryan Sessegnon, Kyle Walker-Peters, Juan Foyth, Ben Davies
Sound the alarm because there’s been a break-in at Spurs. Mauricio Pochettino used his loquaciousness in the media to verbally tie up chairman Daniel Levy and crowbar open the money vault.
After two desolate transfer windows, the Champions League finalists added to their squad over the summer and they went big, not just signing bodies, but quality players.
The slick No10 Giovani Lo Celso is an excellent addition to provide competition to Dele Alli, Tanguy Ndombele’s two-way ability was much needed at the base of their midfield and means one of last-season’s most impressive performers is dropped to the bench in Moussa Sissoko.
In terms of defensive reinforcements, Davinson Sanchez is developing into one of the finest young centre-halves with his athleticism melded to mental refinement.
Eric Dier’s versatility is helpful even if he is fairly limited. There’s no recognised understudy for Kane which is a concern given his injury record, but there is creation and goals through the dynamic South American duo Lucas Moura and Erik Lamela.
Spurs look well equipped to oscillate between 3-4-3 and 4-3-3, but the fact they failed to sign Paulo Dybala perhaps points to the obvious area of weakness.
BENCH AVERAGE AGE = 26
BENCH INTERNATIONAL CAPS = 198
BENCH RATING = 7/10
BARCELONA | TOTAL SQUAD MARKET VALUE = €1.18bn
STRONGEST XI 4-3-3: Marc-Andre ter Stegen; Nelson Semedo, Gerard Pique, Clement Lenglet, Jordi Alba; Frenkie de Jong, Sergio Busquets, Arthur; Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Antoine Griezmann
BENCH: Neto, Samuel Umtiti, Sergi Roberto, Ivan Rakitic, Carles Perez, Ousmane Dembele, Ansu Fati
MISSING OUT: Arturo Vidal, Carles Alena, Jean-Clair Todibo, Junior Firpo, Moussa Wague
The degradation of La Masia meant the graduates feeding through to the first team was on the wane, until the sudden emergence of Ansu Fati that is.
The 16-year-old has been an absolute revelation and his gripping ability to knot up full-backs only years removed from being taught tie up his boot laces is remarkable.
Fati provides youthful exuberance on the left wing and a fellow academy graduate is there to help on the right in Carles Perez who can also function as chief support to Luis Suarez.
Barca, though, spent big to win big and the capture of Antoine Griezmann relegated a maddening talent in Ousmane Dembele to the bench.
Ivan Rakitic is massively underrated and his presence adds tons of control to the midfield while Sergi Roberto fits that mold but can also fill in at full-back.
And finally who can forget Samuel Umtiti who up until a debilitating knee injury was one of the world’s finest centre-backs.
Indeed, on paper at least, Ernesto Valverde has one of the best benches around but then as we’ve seen so far in 2019/20 it seems no amount of back-ups can cover for the absence of Lionel Messi.
BENCH AVERAGE AGE = 24.5
BENCH INTERNATIONAL CAPS = 164
BENCH RATING = 8/10
REAL MADRID | TOTAL SQUAD MARKET VALUE = €1.19bn
STRONGEST XI 4-3-3: Thibaut Courtois; Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Ferland Mendy; Toni Kroos, Casemiro, Luka Modric; Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Eden Hazard
BENCH: Alphonse Areola, Eder Militao, Marcelo, Federico Valverde, James Rodriguez, Vinicius Junior, Luka Jovic
MISSING OUT: Nacho, Alvaro Odriozola, Mariano Diaz, Lucas Vazquez, Isco, Marco Asensio, Brahim Diaz, Rodrygo
Only Real Madrid could spend €300 million and still look short in key areas. The first point to address is in midfield where Zinedine Zidane is an injury away from disaster.
The tired trio of Luka Modric, Casemiro and Toni Kroos is supported by only Federico Valverde, a super talented and energy-bomb of a midfielder but one still quite uncut by Madrid standards.
James Rodriguez wasn’t even supposed to be at the club but makes the bench and is an awkward fit in a midfield three, though, the Colombian does inject plenty of dynamism and sharp passing if given creative license.
It’s a better outlook in attack with Vinicius Junior genuine competition to another man not supposed to be here in Gareth Bale.
The Brazilian was an absolute livewire last season, a shining talent piercing through defences and the Bernabeu gloom.
Luka Jovic gives Zidane an option to go two up top and is one of the most promising young strikers in Europe.
Defensively there are concerns, is new signing Eder Militao better than what they already have? Probably not. Marcelo while defensively negligible is a good attacking option, however, there’s a distinct lack of balance and star quality in Real’s support crew.
BENCH AVERAGE AGE = 23.8
BENCH INTERNATIONAL CAPS = 165
BENCH RATING = 6/10
ATLETICO MADRID | TOTAL SQUAD MARKET VALUE = €872.5m
STRONGEST XI 4-3-1-2: Jan Oblak; Kieran Trippier, Stefan Savic, Jose Gimenez, Renan Lodi; Koke, Thomas Partey, Saul; Thomas Lemar; Joao Felix, Alvaro Morata
BENCH: Antonio Adan, Felipe, Santiago Arias, Marcos Llorente, Hector Herrera, Vitolo, Diego Costa
MISSING OUT: Mario Hermoso, Ivan Saponjic, Angel Correa, Rodrigo Riquelme
Atletico Madrid had arguably the toughest job of all the clubs examined after their squad was gutted. As much as six players were ripped out of Diego Simeone’s first XI and it wasn’t just that bodies left, but also their soul.
Essentially, Atleti’s identity was being taken away and so it’s led to a shift in thought from Simeone.
The Argentine has pivoted away from his rigid 4-4-2 and into a 4-3-1-2 shape which dictates the necessity for midfield options from the bench.
At his disposal is a player their city rivals could sorely use right now in Marcos Llorente, and although he’s struggled so far, the 24-year-old is a smooth operator.
There’s experience and security in the technically sound Mexican Hector Herrera, plus stability at centre-back with the aerial prowess of fellow summer recruit Felipe.
In attack there’s the dogged Diego Costa who is capable of tearing everything up, but he doesn’t have great goalscoring record since returning to Madrid.
Vitolo is playing some of his best football in an Atletico shirt, though, and the winger is always pretty good from the bench.
However, what’s largely absent from the substitutes is in ingenuity, someone who can provide that spark. There’s trademark Atletico security, but not a lot of goals or goal creation if they’re struggling to make inroads going forward.
BENCH AVERAGE AGE = 28.7
BENCH INTERNATIONAL CAPS = 91
BENCH RATING = 5.5/10
BORUSSIA DORTMUND | TOTAL SQUAD MARKET VALUE = €633.8m
STRONGEST XI 4-2-3-1: Roman Burki; Achraf Hakimi, Manuel Akanji, Mats Hummels, Nico Schulz; Axel Witsel, Julian Brandt; Jadon Sancho, Marco Reus, Thorgan Hazard; Paco Alcacer
BENCH: Marwin Hitz, Lukasz Piszczek, Dan-Axel Zagadou, Thomas Delaney, Julian Weigl, Jacob Bruun Larsen, Mario Gotze
MISSING OUT: Mahmoud Dahoud, Marcel Schmelzer, Raphael Guerreiro, Leonardo Balerdi
Another club to shrewdly invest over the summer was Borussia Dortmund. After pushing Bayern Munich so close in the Bundesliga last term, the Black and Yellow have uncharacteristically claimed that it’s a title or failure this season.
With the team at Lucien Favre’s disposal it’s easy to see why. There are some concerns on the bench which contrasts to the glittering talent of the first XI.
Virtually all their new signings went straight into the starting team because they were positions Dortmund looked short last season, meaning their bench hasn’t necessarily improved all that much.
Take the defence for example. Mats Hummels returns to the club and that means Dan-Axel Zagadou is right where he should be considering how raw he is.
Lukasz Piszczek is now 34 but despite his physical decline, the full-back’s experienced head is an asset for Favre.
That’s very much the tone of Dortmund’s bench, experience offsetting the youth of their strongest XI.
Thomas Delaney and Mario Gotze fit that bill, the Danish midfielder bringing steel to the base of midfield while the German forward’s diminished pace is made up for by his technical ability to thrive as a false nine.
It’s hard to believe the intelligent leader Julian Weigl is just 24 but he brings versatility to play at centre-back and in midfield. Dortmund are ultimately short up front and an error-prone Zagadou is a worry as a centre-back replacement.
Overall, the bench just feels glass half empty as opposed to half full.
BENCH AVERAGE AGE = 26.5
BENCH INTERNATIONAL CAPS = 176
BENCH RATING = 6/10
BAYERN MUNICH | TOTAL SQUAD MARKET VALUE = €866.65m
STRONGEST XI 4-2-3-1: Manuel Neuer; Benjamin Pavard, Niklas Sule, Lucas Hernandez, David Alaba; Thiago Alcantara, Joshua Kimmich; Serge Gnabry, Philippe Coutinho, Ivan Perisic; Robert Lewandowski
BENCH: Sven Ulreich, Jerome Boateng, Javi Martinez, Corentin Tolisso, Kingsley Coman, Leon Goretzka, Thomas Muller
MISSING OUT: Fiete Arp, Mickael Cuisance, Alphonso Davies
For a long time last summer, Bayern’s bench would have picked itself because in comparison to the rest of Europe’s elite, the Bavarians possessed one of the smallest squads.
Late arrivals in Ivan Perisic and Philippe Coutinho have helped bloat the numbers and with those two creative talents heading straight for the first team, it means boss Niko Kovac has some enticing options to turn to now.
Thomas Muller’s name immediately springs out and his competition with Coutinho fundamentally makes Bayern a stronger outfit.
The German’s pedigree and flexibility in attacking positions, plus the fact he won’t want to sit on the bench in the first place, gives Kovac a very strong alternative.
It’s a similar thread with Kingsley Coman with the immensely talented winger battling it out with Serge Gnabry and Perisic for a spot on Bayern’s wing. No doubt all three will be rotated but each one adds a different dimension to the attack.
In midfield, Leon Goretzka remains one of Germany’s most talented middle men and physical specimen, even if injuries have hampered his development so far.
Corentin Tolisso is another with undeniable talent but again injuries have been an issue, but when available is a deeply intelligent box-to-box type player.
Javi Martinez brings a lot of experience, and even though he was largely expected to leave in the summer, so too does Jerome Boateng.
It’s at the back, particularly in the full-back slots Bayern look really short of options and that for sure is the major downfall of their bench.
BENCH AVERAGE AGE = 27.8
BENCH INTERNATIONAL CAPS = 252
BENCH RATING = 7/10
JUVENTUS | TOTAL SQUAD MARKET VALUE = €864m
STRONGEST XI 4-3-3: Wojciech Szczesny; Danilo, Matthijs de Ligt, Giorgio Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Aaron Ramsey, Miralem Pjanic, Blaise Matuidi; Douglas Costa, Gonzalo Higuain, Cristiano Ronaldo
BENCH: Gianluigi Buffon, Leonardo Bonucci, Mattia De Sciglio, Adrien Rabiot, Rodrigo Bentancur, Juan Cuadrado, Paulo Dybala
MISSING OUT: Mattia Perin, Daniele Rugani, Merih Demiral, Emre Can, Mario Mandzukic, Federico Bernardeschi, Sami Khedira, Marko Pjaca
Juve’s squad is absolutely insane. Now, there’s two schools of thought with the Italians; A) Having so many good footballers can never be a bad thing and B) Having so many good footballers is a bad thing.
Look at the names available and it’s hard to see how Juve don’t win everything available to them, but then consider these players on a human level and problems can emerge.
Take for example leaving Emre Can and Mario Mandzukic out of their Champions League squad completely and it’s easy to see how discontent could fester.
However, examining purely the options Maurizio Sarri has and there is a bit of everything. Leonardo Bonucci has shown signs of decline but is still a premier centre-back and brings leadership to the table, as is the case with Gigi Buffon.
Full-back Mattia De Sciglio could make a strong case to be in the starting XI were it not for his injury past, but the real A-List talent is further forward.
Put the diva-like antics to one side and Adrien Rabiot is a supremely gifted option to bring into the fold. Rodrigo Bentancur is a perfect Sarri player, an excellent ball winner with bags of energy.
As Juan Cuadrado has shown already, the Colombian can still produce show-stopping moments.
Then there’s Paulo Dybala, the man with a lot to prove this season and the talent to back it up. The Argentine should be nowhere near the bench but given his struggles to acclimate with Cristiano Ronaldo, he finds himself there.
Whenever the Portuguese is not around, no doubt he’ll show why he’s one of the most talented forwards in Europe.
BENCH AVERAGE AGE = 28.7
BENCH INTERNATIONAL CAPS = 445
BENCH RATING = 10/10
PSG | TOTAL SQUAD MARKET VALUE = €1.06bn
STRONGEST XI 4-3-3: Keylor Navas; Thomas Meunier, Thiago Silva, Abdou Diallo, Juan Bernat; Marco Verratti, Marquinhos, Idrissa Gueye; Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani, Neymar
BENCH: Sergio Rico, Presnel Kimpembe, Thilo Kehrer, Ander Herrera, Angel Di Maria, Pablo Sarabia, Mauro Icardi
MISSING OUT: Leandro Paredes, Layvin Kurzawa, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Julian Draxler, Colin Dagba, Adil Aouchiche
PSG’s strongest XI is among the very best in world football so by extension the bench was always going to be pretty strong as well.
Even names left out entirely would raise eyebrows with Julian Draxler a big omission, but then the amount of attackers available to Thomas Tuchel – granted when all fit – is ridiculous.
Angel Di Maria continues to show why his left-foot is one of the most technically sound around and although he can be ragged within games, he produces big moments.
The Argentine is a very useful weapon to bring into the fold against tired defences which have been exhausted by Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. He’s also excellent on set-pieces.
His compatriot Mauro Icardi seems like an odd signing simply because PSG don’t need him, but now they have him, the striker is an apex predator and one of the most efficient No9s around. He can certainly be counted on to poach a goal from the bench.
Pablo Sarabia scored 23 goals and provided 17 assists for Sevilla last season and so that type of quality waiting in the wings is a pure luxury as well.
But there is some much-needed midfield reinforcement and bite through Ander Herrera while in defence Presnel Kimpembe may be a still-developing centre-back but is a good option to have.
There’s more youth through the athleticism of Thilo Kehrer who can play right-back, in the middle and as a DM.
The only real downside to Tuchel’s bench is more genuine options in midfield considering how important that area is to PSG’s structured style of play.
BENCH AVERAGE AGE = 27.2
BENCH INTERNATIONAL CAPS = 119
BENCH RATING = 8/10
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