Squad rotation first began in a time when Gary Barlow was a chubby young taxpayer and the idea of Phil Neville being paid to talk on television seemed as likely as us all getting a glimpse of Prince Harry’s fiery ball bag. It was a magnificent time.
Since then the importance of having a healthy, rotatable squad has been ground like powdered glass into our eyes and minds. When a manager is defending a questionable team selection he cites squad rotation. When another manager is splattering millions on yet another attacking midfielder, he pleads squad rotation. When Nicklas Bendtner remains gainfully employed at a Premier League club for 9 years we conclude that the only possible explanation is, you guessed it, squad rotation.
Yep, we can categorically state that there is absolutely no possibility of a Premier League club having any kind of success without a ferocious, unflinching commitment to having a big squad and swapping it about like a baboon with a jigsaw. Well, we could say that. Now I’m not so sure.
Mour’ is less
Step forward that perpetual slayer of comfortable assumptions, everyone’s favourite bottom lip, Mr Jose Mourinho. Not content with Chelsea’s remarkable charge through the first quarter of the season, Mourinho has rather impolitely done it all with the very slenderest of squad rotation. This season the mountainous defensive triumvirate of John Terry, Gary Cahill and Nemanja Matic have played every single minute of every Premier League game. Contrast that continuity with Arsenal who lose defenders with such regularity you can only assume they are all f*cking off to Narnia via a wardrobe concealed in Arsene Wenger’s massive coat. (Even Aslan the wise lion doesn’t fancy Nacho Monreal though.)
But it’s not just the tiresomely efficient back four that have remained healthy and present for Chelsea. Assist machine Cesc Fabregas has played in every league game, as has Eden Hazard. Even Diego Costa, who we are expected to believe has the hamstring tensility of Madge from Neighbours, has only missed two league games, and when he has played has never lasted less than 70 minutes.
Of course that’s not to say that Chelsea haven’t dipped into their squad resources when necessary. Like their closest rivals Manchester City and Southampton, they have used 20 players all season in the league (incidentally Arsenal have used 24 and Manchester United have used 25 footballers and an Anderson). But unlike their most serious rivals, City, Chelsea have established a consistent core of the team and have been fortunate enough to keep those players fit.
No substitute for good fortune
Tempting as it might be, it’s hard to lob that particular set of circumstances into the Mourinho ‘Genius Bucket’. Yes, undoubtedly he has managed his squad’s exertions typically well (sneaking both Costa and Fabregas out of international duty was the diplomatic equivalent of persuading Vladimir Putin to put his shirt back on). But luck has also played a significant part and Chelsea have simply capitalised ruthlessly on the fortune that other clubs haven’t had.
Mourinho may not have entirely killed off the idea of squad rotation, but he’s certainly jabbed a hot stick through the ribs of mindlessly ‘tinkering’. He’s also demonstrating the idea that intelligent squad management is a more productive approach than simply swapping Billy Legkick for Jonny Shinboot every other week. Which ultimately means, like Gary Barlow’s accountant, Nicklas Bendtner’s agent and Vladimir Putin’s nipples, you’ve simply got to applaud him.