The move from 4-4-2 to 4-2-3-1 and the more recent shift to three at the back are strategies aficionados may be aware of. But not so quietly the Bundesliga is at the forefront of another tactical revolution, with the 'jokers' having the last laugh.
If you didn’t already know, 'Joker' is the word Germans use for goalscoring substitutes - and there have been plenty of those in 2018/19. Thirty-three players have found the net from the bench so far this season, producing 41 goals - a new Bundesliga record for substitute scorers after seven matches. That’s almost a quarter of the 179 goals league-wide in the new home of the knockout kings.
From Borussia Dortmund’s Paco Alcacer to Augsburg’s Felix Götze, second-half introductions are affecting games like never before. Of the 41 substitute goals scored, 27 have contributed to wins and six have rescued draws, which means only eight have been in vain.
Watch: Paco Alcacer, Jadon Sancho and the Bundesliga's super-subs
There are some instances where all match goals have been scored by substitutes - Mainz’s come-from-behind win over Augsburg - and others where two or even three players have emerged from the dugout to turn the tide. Who can forget Dortmund’s 4-2 win at Bayer Leverkusen or their rip-roaring 4-3 triumph against Augsburg?
Conveniently enough, Dortmund are at the vanguard of the shifting trend. Against Eintracht Frankfurt on Matchday 3, England’s Jadon Sancho came off the bench after the break and crossed for Marius Wolf to put BVB 2-1 in front. He turned provider again late on, this time for Alcacer to open his account, himself having only been on the pitch for 19 minutes. Sancho did it again with a goal of his own in the 7-0 rout of Nuremberg, before the same one-two combination sparked a stirring comeback from 2-0 down to beat Leverkusen 4-2 on Matchday 6.
Sancho’s electric performances earned a first Bundesliga start of the season against Augsburg prior to the October international break, but Alcacer remained on the bench - at least for the first hour. And that – with Dortmund a goal down - is when head coach Lucien Favre made his move.
Transitioning from modern jazz to Speedcore, Dortmund levelled through Alcacer within two minutes of his introduction. The Barcelona loanee scored a second to cancel out a Philipp Max equaliser, before another substitute - the much-maligned Mario Götze - put the hosts ahead for the first time. Augsburg restored parity for what they must have thought would be enough for a point, only for Alcacer to settle matters with a 96th-minute free-kick. It’s now six goals for the Spain international in 81 minutes - and he hasn’t even started a game.
“It’s extremely important that we have players on the bench who can come on the pitch, and cause a stir, come onto the pitch with maximum effort,” said Dortmund captain Marco Reus following the latest episode of BVB: Write Us Off At Your Peril. “You could see that from the 60th or 70th minute, Augsburg were not able to keep us in check as they had done in the first half.”
And that’s the beauty of it. Dortmund don’t need to start all of their match-winners to get results. In fact, you get the distinct feeling that Favre is deliberately holding back his wad of game-changers until the resident sloggers have the opposition on the ropes, gasping for air – but the Black-Yellows aren’t the only ones floating like a butterfly, stinging like a bee and landing lusty blows in the final rounds.
Watch: Felix Götze scored against his former club Bayern Munich off the bench!
Wolfsburg and Mainz set the tone on the opening weekend, when substitutes Daniel Ginczek and Anthony Ujah answered the call in wins over Schalke and VfB Stuttgart respectively. Alassane Plea rode to Borussia Mönchengladbach’s rescue against Augsburg, while Werder Bremen had Milot Rashica to thank for their last-gasp win at Frankfurt on Matchday 2. Even defending champions Bayern Munich - having themselves exploited heavy hitters such as Arjen Robben and James Rodriguez to floor the opposition in previous games - have been rocked by the odd haymaker: namely former youth player Götze’s 87th-minute equaliser for Augsburg on Matchday 6.
'Jokers' are nothing new, but the way in which they are being deployed is changing. For every token roll of the dice that can go either way, there is a premeditated decision to leave the Alcacers, Pleas, Robbens and Sanchos of this world waiting in the wings, ready to strike at a moment’s notice. It’s cut-throat, it’s brilliantly basic and it all makes for one thrilling fight to the finish. Someone call Stallone, because the end-of-season montage is going to be off the hook!