Yesterday's game was awful. There's just no other way to put it. While the squad we ran out on the pitch was clearly not our strongest, it should certainly have been good enough to produce a better result than whatever that was. They failed miserably, and today we're stuck trying to figure out why. Was it motivation? Fatigue? Lousy players? Were Liverpool just that good?*
*They weren't...they still kind of sucked. We just sucked harder.
Graham did a piece earlier today looking at how we've prioritized things since Roberto Di Matteo has taken charge. That got me thinking...how exactly has Di Matteo been selecting his squad since he took over? He's been in charge for 19 games now, so we're beginning to have a large enough sample to make educated judgments about how he selects his players. Hit the jump and we'll start to look at how Di Matteo has used his squad (and we're not looking at keepers...sorry Petr).
Those of you that have been reading for a while will probably remember this piece which looked at how the old boss was handing out minutes based on age groups. It came to the conclusion that Chelsea FC were more heavily reliant on older players than the rest of the better teams in the Premier League. We've also had a ridiculously busy fixture list since Di Matteo took over, and if he's truly relying on the old guard to get us through the schedule we'll probably see results more skewed to the older crowd than we did in the linked article. But why speculate when I have the data right here, broken down into both cup and league minutes by age group...
Compare that to this, which is the way both Ancelotti and AVB handed out playing time:
Surprised? I was. Roberto Di Matteo has actually been far less reliant on our 30+ crowd than either of his predecessors. That was certainly not the result I expected to come across when I started digging into the data. What's also striking is just how little difference there has been in the two different types of competitions and how he distributes minutes. The 23 and under crowd isn't getting a ton of time in the cups, but that's more or less what you'd expect and the only real difference between the two sets of data.
From this data, I'd conclude that Di Matteo is not in fact relying on the "old guard" to win us cup games. My next question was how specific players were used in league versus cup games, so with that in mind I broke out the calculator and started going through match reports. There are quite a few players to look at, so I broke them down into the same three groups we used above to clean up the graphs somewhat. All of these guys are sorted left to right by age, Mikel and Luiz actually share the same date of birth. First, the kiddies:
Now we'll take a look at the players in their prime years:
And finally we have the moldy oldies:
A pair of notes first: We probably can't read much into the use of our center backs from this data, as injury and suspension have pretty much forced Roberto Di Matteo's hand in that regard. It's probably also inflated the minutes for Paulo and Bossy, as Ivanovic playing in the center has created a need for them to play more. The 120 minute Napoli game may also be a bit of an outlier, as RDM inherited an aggregate deficit that forced us into a very attacking style of play.
Centerbacks aside, I think you can all see some patterns pretty clearly from this data. Certain players are seeing far more time in the league, while others have seen their minutes spike in the cup competitions. Assuming that Di Matteo has prioritized the two cups over the league (and it's pretty obvious that he has), this really does give us a look at who Di Matteo seems to trust in big games. While Drogba and Lampard are the guys the media generally note as being our most important, the data would indicate that Ramires, Mata, Ashley Cole, and Mikel are the members of the squad that Di Matteo actually can't live without*. Salomon Kalou and Raul Meireles also see significantly more minutes in cup games than they do in the league, take that for what you will.
*Mikel has played every minute of our cup games outside of the Napoli game in which we were chasing a lead from the first minute. Think Di Matteo rates him?
Obviously data like this is open to interpretation, as many factors will not be taken into account by just looking at the numbers. It's interesting to look at none the less, as it certainly does bring up some surprising details in this case. While AVB had his "project", Di Matteo has actually played a significantly younger squad in general than either of his predecessors while making this potential cup double winning run. Feel free to leave your thoughts below, it's certainly some interesting data to digest.