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Balancing An Aging Chelsea Squad - Rotation The Order Of The Day

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Following Chelsea's match against a Thailand All-Star team on Sunday, which the Blues won 4-0, new manager Andre Villas-Boas gave an assessment of the state of the squad, touching particularly on the different groups of players he has at his disposal. The youth movement were discussed, as were the veteran core of the squad, which Sir Alex Ferguson had earlier paid the backhanded compliment of describing them as the 'most experienced squad in the league'.

So what does Villas-Boas think of things? As best I can tell, he's setting us up for a rotation policy:

[The veterans] still have a lot to offer. Just look at the trophies they have won and how successful they have been. Chelsea are the second or third oldest team in the Premier League and I must respect the recovery periods of the older players. So I must find the correct balance between experience and youth and find out what kind of game we can play.

...

Josh just has to be competitive and show he is the best, like all the others, and in the end we make choices on who is performing better and helping the collective to perform. When it gets to the season the choices will be done like that and with the injuries you might have, there will be plenty of opportunities for everybody, but they must be able to compete to be in the starting 11.

-Andre Villas-Boas. Sources: Sky Sports & ChelseaFC.com.

Just to be clear, the first bit is from a Sky article saying the Villas-Boas will put his trust in the veterans and the second is from the generic 'post-game reaction' quote binge ChelseaFC.com put up after every match. While Sky are trying to paint Villas-Boas' comments as decidedly pro-old-players, they're really not.

It's been obvious for quite some time that Chelsea's more senior players need more rest than they've typically been given. Frank Lampard has been almost ridden into the ground despite a major groin injury, Didier Drogba was compelled to play through malaria and it was abundantly clear that several other players were playing hurt, especially in that horrific spell in the middle third of the season.

One of the major complaints about Carlo Ancelotti was his complete and total failure to make sacrifices to current team strength to preserve his best players for the future. No, Daniel Sturridge probably wasn't as good as Didier Drogba, even with malaria, but playing Sturridge and allowing Drogba to rest would have accelerated his eventual return significantly. The same goes for Gael Kakuta and Florent Malouda's dodgy ankle, or Jeffrey Bruma and Alex's knee. The sensible route is to go for delayed gratification, take a short-term hit, and have the veteran players back at full strength as soon as possible.

It's a little depressing that sporting culture tends to praise players for playing through injury, because although they might be much better than their replacements, they're sure not very useful if they go down for a longer period of time as a result. Lampard, of course, played in pain against Stoke last August, looked terrible, and then made no further appearance until December. What if he'd sat out that match and sought treatment immediately? Would the recovery period have been shorter? We don't know, of course, but it sure seems like it ought to be. The more damage an athlete does to himself, the longer he'll likely be out.

Anyway, all of that is makes 'I must respect the recovery periods of the older players' a fairly refreshing sentiment. When combined with the idea that the youngsters will be allowed to play if they're performing, we're suddenly presented with a full-on squad rotation policy from Villas-Boas. The veterans won't be ridden too hard, especially with a tight fixture schedule, and the young players will be able to slot in if and when they're needed. Far from the manager placing his faith entirely in the veterans or embarking on a pure youth project, he's going to use his whole squad. And really, that's what we want from the club, because it's likely to produce the best football over the course of the season.