One of the biggest questions about Maurizio Sarri coming in was how would he handle the need to rotate his players at Chelsea. At Napoli, correctly or incorrectly, he was blamed by the owner for wearing down the squad, so even though the team collected a record amount of points, they still fell short of any trophies.
This was hardly a unique question leveled at the new head coach. Antonio Conte faced a similar inquest after his first season, when he had the general “luxury” of playing just once a week since Chelsea were not in Europe at all. Conte did not pass with flying colors (for a wide variety of reasons, not just his own). And it’s a question not limited just to Chelsea — Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool comes to mind as someone who took at least a season to properly figure it out.
In any case, Sarri’s solution to this eternal problem has been to basically create two teams of XI and rotate them between weekend and midweek matches. The contrast in quality between the weekend’s Premier League tests and the midweek League Cup and Europa League trials has enabled him to take full advantage of the large squad available to him. While there is some overlap (Kepa Arrizabalaga plays much more than just weekends, for example, as does Willian and a few others depending on injuries and such), Sarri has approached the problem almost like an ice-hockey coach. Line change!
And while some players aren’t too appreciative of being stuck on Team B (Christensen, Fàbregas come to mind), Sarri’s hoping to keep this policy going as long as he can.
“We have used 26 players in official matches [in all competitions] this season so the rotation at the moment is this, but I don’t know in the future. If you look only in the Premier League the situation is that, you are right [only used 19 players] but I have to look at all competitions: 90 minutes are 90 minutes. You have to look at the League Cup, Europa League and the national team. I have to look also to the minutes in the national teams. So I think the rotation is good. Every moment was done only between the Europa League, League Cup and Premier League but in the future it will be different.
”If you look at December and January, you need to change also in the Premier League because we will play every three days in the Premier League. So we need to change in the Premier League.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: ESPN
The nice pattern of midweek (secondary competition) and weekend (primary competition) comes to an end next month as we enter the hectic holiday period and Premier League matches get played on weekdays. This is the part where things truly started to go all wrong for Conte (and others like Ancelotti and Scolari and Villas-Boas and so on). Sarri will have to figure out how to handle things without running his first-string squad into the ground.
Until then, it’s line 1 and line 2. Today, it’s line 1.