Having few or no subs is something that many teams experience on game day from time to time. Some players have other family commitments on a particular weekend, or maybe your players are also playing for other teams. Regardless, if you know you are going to be down players for an upcoming game, it helps to plan a strategy early and even implement some no-sub situations at that week’s practice if possible.
Obviously, with few or no subs, your players are going to have to learn how to conserve their energy during the game. They may be feeling tired, but they will also be going up against an opponent who is fresh off the bench or is at least playing with the knowledge that he can take a break if he needs one. The midfielders, especially, will become tired quickly as they constantly transition from offense to defense and back again.
In a no-sub situation, it is best to use a defensive-heavy formation, i.e., 4-4-2. Having four defenders and four midfielders ensures that you will never be dealing with tired players trying to handle multiple transitions at once. Keep your two forwards up to handle air balls and defensive clears. If a midfielder begins to show that he is tired, have him switch with one of the forwards for a while to catch his breath.
You can’t bring new players in, but you can switch your players among different positions to ensure that they will not have to sprint constantly throughout the game. Place your players who are in the best physical shape at the midfield position, even if they do not traditionally play midfield (although usually your most highly-conditioned players are already playing midfield anyway). You will want your most capable endurance athletes at the midfield positions in a game with no subs.
If you know ahead of time that you will not have your full roster on game day, use practice time to have your players experiment in their new positions. Put your athletic forward or defender at midfielder so that they have an opportunity to practice. Practice situations where one team in a scrimmage is forced to play a man-down against another team.
Explain how much everyone will have to run more than usual in the upcoming game and also explain that people can switch positions if they see a need for it. You could even develop a code. If your player needs a “rest” on the field, they can shout “switch” to you on the sideline, and you can have them move to another position.
Ideally, in the no-sub game, you will want to try and score early. Have your forwards play very aggressively (but safely – you don’t need any red cards) towards the goal at the outset of the game and try to score. Once a score happens, you can drop back on defense and concentrate on defending your own goal.
Have your players drink lots of water or sports drinks before, during, and after the game. Line water bottles or a parent with water up along the sidelines for the players to run over and grab a drink when they need to. Emphasize safe play– when muscles are tired, this is when sudden movements can cause injury. Finally, watch the fouls. Yellow and red cards are unacceptable when you are already short on players.