Diego Costa may be the most obvious example of this predicament, and one that we've been tracking for a few months now thanks to his four yellow cards picked up in the first six matches of the season, but following Sunday's win over West Brom, there are now four key Chelsea players who are just one yellow card away from a mandatory one-game suspension. In fact, Costa, despite his stellar form, may be the most expendable of the four as we actually have a more than capable like-for-like replacement who should be able to deputize for a game in Michy Batshuayi.
Joining Costa on the precipice are David Luiz, Nemanja Matić, and N'Golo Kanté. Actually, David Luiz had already been there after his yellow card against Manchester City (his third in the league, plus another one in the League Cup — yes, they do count!), but the latter two, the two pillars of the midfield, both picked up cautions on Sunday to give them four each on the season.
The Premier League's yellow card rules mandate a one-match automatic suspension for any player who picks up five yellows before the New Year. On January 1, the amnesty kicks in, and the limit is raised to ten yellow cards through the "second Sunday in April", which falls on April 9 this year. Any player collecting that many before then would serve an automatic two-match ban, while any player reaching fifteen at any point would serve a three-match ban. At twenty cards, you have to go the principal's office in person.
Chelsea have four more games left before the year turns to 2017: Sunderland and Crystal Palace away; Bournemouth and Stoke City at home. Certainly winnable propositions on paper, but that confidence could quickly erode if, for example, both Kanté and Matić had to sit out a game at the same time. While Conte didn't really concern himself with this problem before and, much to our benefit in Costa's case, has simply trusted the player to avoid a booking as long as possible, now, even he's turning to superstition to see out these four games out without any major issues. (Could he be turning to proactive rotation as well?)