Saturday, June 19, 2021
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How important is squad rotation in the Premier League?

Scratching head by ALAMY via The TelegraphHow important is squad depth and rotation in the Premier League? There are two schools of thought: one says a great first XI alone can’t sustain a 38-game challenge, the other says too much tinkering disrupts the confidence needed for a title push. Do this season’s numbers support either theory?



In a word, no. And that’s because the fortunes of the season’s two most consistent starting XIs couldn’t be further apart. At one end, Burnley, relegated after scoring the fewest goals and winning the fewest number of games of any team in the division. At the opposite end, champions Chelsea, who won the title at a canter and lost just three times in the process.

Does consistency mean anything?

Both sides boast three players with 38 starts to their names. For Chelsea, John Terry, Branislav Ivanović and Eden Hazard enjoyed outstanding seasons. At Burnley, goalkeeper Tom Heaton, and defenders Kieran Trippier and Jason Shackell were ever-presents in Sean Dyche’s starting line-up.

Seven players from both clubs started 30 or more Premier League games. Sticking with this statistic, do we find any link at all between consistency of starting XI and final league position? Again, the answer is no. Here’s how the teams rank for number of players starting in at least 30 of the season’s 38 games:

7 - Burnley, Chelsea

6 - Crystal Palace, Everton, Southampton

5 - Liverpool, Newcastle, Swansea

4 - West Brom, West Ham

3 - Arsenal, Aston Villa, Hull, Man City, QPR, Stoke, Sunderland, Tottenham

2 - Leicester, Man Utd

So what, if anything, can we learn from the Premier League’s ever-presents (and almost ever-presents)?

1) Goalkeepers and defenders do their fair share

Just 10 players made it onto every starting teamsheet of the year. And just 12 more started all but one league match of the season. They are:

Chelsea - John Terry, Branislav Ivanović, Eden Hazard

Burnley - Tom Heaton, Jason Shackell, Kieran Trippier

Hull - Ahmed Elmohamady

Stoke - Steven Nzonzi

West Ham - Adrian, Aaron Cresswell, Stewart Downing

Tottenham - Christian Eriksen

Swansea - Lukasz Fabianski, Ashley Williams

Sunderland - John O'Shea

Southampton - José Fonte, Graziano Pellé

Newcastle - Darryl Janmaat

Man Utd - David de Gea

Leicester - Wes Morgan

Everton - Phil Jagielka

Crystal Palace - Joel Ward

Players shown in italics started 37 of the 38 Premier League matches.

Of these 22 players, just 5 play in either midfield or attack - and Steven Nzonzi can hardly be considered a forward-thinking player, despite his wonderful final day goal against Liverpool. Moments of headline-making brilliance might come from the front but, yet again, we’re reminded that safe, reliable foundations are found at the back.

2) Eden Hazard is a worthy player of the season

Seen in this defence-dominant context, Eden Hazard’s season looks even more impressive than it already did. Chelsea’s Belgian playmaker was in sparkling form, scoring 14 and setting up nine en route to team and individual honours. Remarkable achievements considering he started every game off the back of Belgium’s World Cup quarter final run.

3) Veteran defenders are remarkably reliable

John Terry, Branislav Ivanović, Jason Shackell, Phil Jagielka, John O’Shea, Ashley Williams, Wes Morgan and Jose Fonté are all over 30. Most are 30 or 31 and such durability at that age is both impressive and valuable. But John Terry is 34 years old. His form this season has been incredible. There can be no doubt now that, despite what you think of him as a person, John Terry is the outstanding defender of his generation.

4) Arséne Wenger may have made a mistake


I can’t resist a little Arsenal-related gripe here. By all objective assessments, Lukasz Fabianski had a fine season. Voted Swansea fans’ player of the year, not least due to his inspired performance against Arsenal at the Emirates, the ‘Pole in Goal’ was also included in the Opta team of the year. As goalkeeping excellence and consistency continues to elude Arsenal in the post-Jens Lehmann era, there’s a legitimate question to be asked here: Did Wenger keep hold of the wrong Pole?

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