The two main storylines ahead of Sunday's showdown at Anfield were Liverpool's (and, specifically, Steven Gerrard's) Premier League manifest destiny and evil enemy of football Jose Mourinho's scandalous intent of playing a B-team.
The last time we threatened to play a B-team was against Arsenal in the League Cup; not surprisingly, José's comments didn't create as much controversy back then as now. Regardless, we've notched up matching 2-0 wins both times we've played the so-called B-team. Maybe we should play the B-team all the time! Which of course would then make them the A-team.*
* Which did partially occur post-Arsenal, as both Cesar Azpilicueta and Willian rose to greater prominence thanks to their quality work.
As we bask in the glow of yet another Mourinho masterclass, we should at least attempt to answer just how much of a B-team we did end up starting with against Liverpool. As I do not have individual minutes data broken down accordingly, we're just going to use Premier League starts to first determine the Chelsea depth chart. Here's what that looked like ahead of the trip to Anfield (number of PL starts in parenthesis).
Goalkeeper: Cech (34); Schwarzer (1)
Left Back: Azpilicueta (22); A.Cole (12); Bertrand (1)
Center Back: Terry (33); Cahill (28); David Luiz (9)
Right Back: Ivanovic (33); Azpilicueta (2)
Center Mid*: Ramires (27); Lampard (18); Matic (12); Mikel (9); David Luiz (6); Essien (2)
Left Wing: Hazard (31); Schürrle (3), Willian (1)
Attacking Mid: Oscar (21); Mata (7); Willian (3)
Right Wing: Willian (13); Schürrle (9); Mata (4); Salah (3); Oscar (2); Ramires (2); De Bruyne (2)
Center Forward: Eto'o (16); Torres (15); Ba (3); Schürrle (1)
* 'Center Mid' includes appearances in both two-man and three-man midfields. In case of a three-man midfield, the 'Attacking Mid' position is left vacated.
This would give us a first choice lineup of Petr Cech in goal, Azpilicueta - Terry - Cahill - Ivanovic across the back, Ramires and Lampard in the center of midfield, Samuel Eto'o up top supported by the attacking band of Hazard - Oscar - Willian. Seems familiar enough, though obviously Nemanja Matic slots in ahead of both Lampard and Ramires for one of two (or three) center midfield positions. The big man has started the last twelve Premier League matches. The average number of Premier League starts this season for our first choice lineup is 25/player.
Now, let's see how we lined up on Sunday. The number in parenthesis again denotes the number of starts the player had this season at that specific position in the Premier League ahead of the game.
Goalkeeper: Schwarzer (1)
Left Back: A.Cole (12)
Center Back: Ivanovic (0), Kalas (0)
Right Back: Azpilicueta (2)
Center Mid: Lampard (18); Matic (12); Mikel (9)
Left Wing: Schürrle (3)
Right Wing: Salah (3)
Center Forward: Ba (3)
Average: less than 6/player. That's 19 less per person than the average first choice player.
The front three were all making their fourth Premier League starts in those roles. And while the midfield had more of an A-team sound to it, the defense was anything but. Ashley Cole led the way with his 13th start at left back, but the vast majority of those came while the date still read 2013. Azpilicueta was back in his "natural" position, albeit for only the third time this season in the league. And the center backs were as unfamiliar with each other as one could possibly imagine. One was starting there for the first time this season, the other was starting for Chelsea for the first time ever, period.
So, yeah, I'd say that's very much a B-team right there. Even the formation was a B-formation with the 4-3-3 preferred to our far more common 4-2-3-1.
Ha ha, Liverpool!