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Chelsea use no substitutions despite losing two key players to injuries earlier in week

A statistical curiosity or something to examine closer?

Chelsea FC v Burnley FC - Premier League Photo by Robin Jones/Getty Images

Chelsea’s 3-0 win over Burnley yesterday produced a statistical curiosity. For the first time in almost seven years, and for the first time in over a decade in a league game, the Blues did not use a single substitution.

The last time this happened was in the 2013 Europa League final, when Interim manager Rafael Benítez’s injury-hit Blues beat Benfica thanks to a last-minute header from Branislav Ivanović. With Eden Hazard and John Terry both ruled out, Benítez decided against using any one of Paulo Ferreira, Mikel, Marko Marin, Yossi Benayoun, Victor Moses, and Nathan Aké — though he probably would’ve made a change from that mostly uninspiring collection if the match had gone into extra time.

The last time this happened in a league game was in October 2009, when Carlo Ancelotti let all his starters see out a second 4-0 victory over Bolton Wanderers in the space of three days. In fairness, 5 of the 7 subs named that day, Joe Cole, Florent Malouda, Daniel Sturridge, Alex, and Juliano Belletti, had started the 4-0 League Cup win against Wanderers in midweek, with Ross Turnbull also getting called into action to replace an injured Hilário in goal. Only Fabio Borini had to watch from the bench both times.

It’s unclear why Lampard decided not to use any of the substitutes he named — apparently no one asked about this in the post-match pressers. Sure, Zouma, Tomori, and Kovačić could use the rest. But leading comfortably in a match that had been long over would’ve been a nice opportunity to give minutes to the likes of Emerson, Batshuayi, and Pedro — all of whom have been out of form, but, according to Lampard himself, could be needed as contingency plans (as he specifically said about Pedro just a day earlier) — and a bit of rest to the likes of Azpilicueta, Abraham, and Willian, 3 of the 6 players with the most minutes on the team.

Without getting too overanalysis-y — Chelsea did have a full week to rest and prepare before the game and now have a full week to rest and prepare for the next game — the decision to have everybody complete the full-90 seems curious in light of the two muscle injuries suffered in the lead-up to the game. The leading cause of such injuries tends to be fatigue and fatigue tends to be cumulative and we had just come out of the busy holiday period that left plenty of casualties across the league, leading to calls once again to reexamine the entire idea of the winter scheduling.

Christian Pulisic’s adductor and N’Golo Kanté’s hamstring could’ve gotten strained at any point of the season of course, either in game or in training. Both players have had more than their fair share of similar soft tissue injuries in the past 6-12 months, which would’ve predisposed them to recurrences. It’s still curious that despite those two recent developments, Lampard decided against sharing the workload, however briefly, yesterday.

“[Kanté] got through training yesterday but it was something that came up last night and then we made a decision this morning. It was more of an awareness in the hamstring, as opposed to a moment he had to pull up, so that makes you hope it is a small thing but we will have to see how it goes.”

-Frank Lampard; source: Chelsea FC

Let’s hope these sorts of things don’t come back to bite us. The best players always (want to) play the most minutes, but surely there’s no harm in being smart about things when opportunity allows.

Chelsea minutes leaders

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