Squad rotation is one of those terms which I feel has lost some of its original meaning over the years. I first became aware of the term in the 1990s, where it was used for instances where a change was made to the starting line up for a specific reasons. Primarily these reasons would be either the manager deciding that they wanted to give a player an extended rest period, or they wanted to ensure that the ‘back up’ player was match-ready and felt like an important part of the squad. However, there are many other reasons why a manager may choose to change their starting line up, such as injuries, suspensions or prioritising a different tactical option for the next opponents. Whilst ‘squad rotation’ is always a choice made by the manager, other changes may often be forced on them, either due to circumstances or maybe just the need to identify a winning formula.
From a statistical perspective, unfortunately it is very difficult to differentiate between the two, because you would need to know the motives of each manager for every single selection decision in order to do this. However, there are still various different statistics you can look at to investigate how regularly a manager changes their team. The table below shows both the total number of players used by each club in the Premier League this season, whilst also breaking down the total amount of minutes each of those players has played.
|Club (current league position)||Total Players Used (rank)||1 – 1000 minutes (rank)||1001 – 2000 minutes (rank)||2001 – 3000 minutes (rank)||3000+ minutes (rank)|
|Manchester City (1st)||21(=18th)||5(=19th)||7(=6th)||7(=8th)||2(=11th)|
|Tottenham Hotspur (3rd)||28(=3rd)||13(2nd)||6(=10th)||9(=2nd)||0(=19th)|
|Chelsea (4th)||24(13th)||11(=5th)||4 (=15th)||3(=18th)||6(2nd)|
|Manchester United (6th)||28(=3rd)||12(=3rd)||7(=6th)||8(=5th)||1(=14th)|
|Wolverhampton Wanderers (7th)||19(20th)||5(=19th)||4(=15th)||3(=18th)||7(1st)|
|Leicester City (10th)||25(=9th)||12(=3rd)||3(=18th)||6(=10th)||4(=4th)|
|West Ham United (11th)||26(=7th)||11(=5th)||7(=6th)||5(=13th)||3(=7th)|
|Crystal Palace (12th)||25(=9th)||11(=5th)||6(=10th)||4(=16th)||4(=4th)|
|Newcastle United (13th)||23(=14th)||8(15th)||9 (=2nd)||6(=10th)||1(=14th)|
|Southampton (16th)||29 (2nd)||10(12th)||12(1st)||6(=10th)||1(=14th)|
|Brighton & Hove Albion (17th)||21(=18th)||7(=16th)||6(=10th)||5(=13th)||3(=7th)|
|Cardiff City (18th)||25(=9th)||11(=5th)||3(=18th)||8(=5th)||3(=7th)|
|Huddersfield Town (20th)||30 (1st)||15(1st)||4(=15th)||10(1st)||1(=14th)|
Whilst this table clearly cannot explain a manager’s thought process, it does highlight a few interesting selection trends. For example, Manchester City and Liverpool have used a similar number of players overall this season, rank close to each other in terms of players who have played less than 1000 minutes and have the same number in the 1001-2000 minutes bracket. Where the two differ is in the top two brackets, with Manchester City having far more in the 2001-3000 minutes bracket, where as Liverpool have more in the 3000+ minutes bracket. This is a reflection of the fact that whilst Pep Guardiola has been willing to rotate all of his outfield players, Jurgen Klopp has largely stuck with the same back four and front three when available, only really rotating his midfielders. The table also illustrates how strongly Nuno Espirito Santo has looked to keep the same team, as despite using the fewest players overall, Wolves have the most players registering more than 3000 minutes (with Ruben Neves just 14 minutes away from joining that bracket too).
The total number of players used is perhaps the most interesting part of the table though. Near the top of the list, you’ll find several of the clubs who are most highly regarded in terms of bringing through players from their academy into the first team, with Tottenham, Arsenal, Manchester United and Southampton all featuring in the top 5. In each case, those numbers have been swelled by academy players coming on for a handful of minutes in the occasional game. Yet the top 6 is bookended by the league’s bottom two teams, Fulham and Huddersfield Town. Both clubs have only had one player register more than 3000 minutes, and it is clear that there has been a certain level of desperation to find a winning formula (or at least improved performance levels) in the high turnover of players both clubs have employed. We will never know whether a more consistent selection policy might have yielded better results, though the fact that both clubs have already been relegated highlights that the strategy they adopted was not a success.
Fantasy Football Tip – Joel Matip
The fixture screaming big points this weekend is Liverpool hosting Huddersfield, which following on from the main part of this week’s blog raises the question of whether Jurgen Klopp will look to rotate his team ahead of the Champions League Semi Final First Leg against Barcelona. Given that Liverpool play Friday and then Wednesday, the Reds do have a reasonably large gap between the fixtures, but I still wouldn’t be surprised to see at least one of the regular front 3 start on the bench against Huddersfield. Predicting who that will be is tricky though, so to play it safe, I would look to select one of Liverpool’s back four of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip and Andrew Robertson, who have looked like a settled unit of late. Whilst he is least likely to chip in with any attacking points, Matip is the cheapest of the quartet and should bring a solid return for a player costing less than £5 million