Systems - Rotation Rotation Rotation

Posted by royhendo on February 8, 2013, 04:04:05 PM

In a departure from our standard format, we thought we'd have a question and answer session for this one, as it's something Al and I were debating but a few days ago on this very site.

Rotation. The group. Peak physical condition. Resting with the ball. And other stock phrases. What does it all mean?


I put it to you, Al, that Brendan Rodgers, unlike certain of his predecessors and peers, picks and sticks with a first choice team. He doesn't rotate. He doesn't substitute based on physical condition. He has done this out of choice and not it's not necessarily been necessitated by necessity.

Or has he? And has he? And has it?


I don't think it is really true that Brendan doesn't rotate Roy, we have played 39 games this season and have kept an unchanged side on only two occasions for Swansea away - Spurs away and for Fulham home - Stoke away. On both of those occasions we lost the second game which may or may not have a significance.

At the other end of the spectrum we made 11 changes between the Gomel home - West Brom away League Cup game, we made 9 changes between the Everton away - Swansea home League Cup game with only Jones and Allen keeping their places, 9 changes between the Newcastle home - Anzhi away game with only Jones and Wisdom keeping their places, 8 changes between Sunderland home - Mansfield away FA Cup with Lucas, Downing and  Wisdom keeping their places and 7 changes between the Norwich home - Oldham away FA Cup game with Jones, Wisdom, Sturridge and Suarez playing both games.

As for not rotating because of physical condition I think it is noticeable that the players who struggle to repeat games Gerrard and Agger have played very rarely in the 14 Cup games with Gerrard starting four of the ten Europa games and none of the domestic Cup games whilst Agger has started 3 Europa games and none of the Domestic Cups.


So is rotation evidenced solely in 'not playing an unchanged side' then? It's clear we've had a league side and a cup side this season, but the numbers hide a pretty consistent selection in the league don't they?

Here are our league 'minutes played'. It's notable how solid the numbers for our big players are, but we have to remember the Dempsey thing, then the injuries, and that both affected the selections in the first half of the season.

23 players used, with possibly Sturridge, Borini and Kelly in a group that might have seen more playing time at the expense of others further up the leaderboard.

Gerrard   2,250
Suarez   2,156
Agger   2,107
Johnson   2,053
Skrtel   1,888
Reina   1,800
Allen   1,734
Sterling   1,703
Downing   1,179
Jose Enrique   1,132
Wisdom   969
Lucas   836
Henderson   772
Shelvey   770
Fernandez Saez   577
Carragher   461
Jones   450
Sahin   448
Borini   384
Kelly   335
Sturridge   275
Coates   140
Assaidi   57

Compare that with Man Utd for the league. 25 players used... but is the spread comparable?

Evra   2,176
Carrick   2,092
Van Persie   2,044
Rafael   1,687
Ferdinand   1,684
de Gea   1,546
Valencia   1,354
Evans 1,337
Rooney   1,306
Cleverley   1,221
Young   1,050
Welbeck   946
Vidic   823
Smalling   740
Kagawa   724
Lindegaard   720
Scholes   684
Hernandez   630
Giggs   569
Nani   459
Jones   450
Anderson   383
Fletcher   181
Buttner   90
Powell   32

Here's how the graph looks. For an evenly rotated squad, you'd expect a few higher numbers, followed by a comparatively flat line with squad players sharing minutes. For a less rotated squad, you'd expect more high numbers for first choice players, followed by a sharper decline for the squad players.

The problem is that those numbers are just the league. But based on those numbers, it shows Man Utd having rotated a little more than Liverpool have, but not to a glaring extent. Man Utd's line is a little flatter and longer, whereas ours descends a little more sharply after our key players' numbers are past. With Henderson and Sturridge now looking like fixtures, it'd be interesting to see how that affects things.


Interesting numbers Roy, it probably shows what we already knew United have more depth and probably even more crucially they have less disparity in the overall difference in quality between members of the squad. Also of note is that whilst our two players with most minutes are two of our biggest goal threats with the exception of Van Persie United's players with the most minutes are a Keeper, three defenders and a holding midfield player. Which largely goes with the perceived wisdom that it is best to rotate your front players and wingers to keep them fresh and to try and keep a settled defence.

The only fly in the ointment for me would be that United are prioritising two competitions the Premier League and the Champions League whilst we are pretty clearly concentrating almost exclusively on the Premier League. It would be interesting to see numbers for all the competitions.


That's very true. And as if by magic (and with the wonders of long-term thread authoring) here are the graphs.

1. All comps.

Top 11 MU - Evra, Rafael, Carrick, RVP, De Gea, Rooney, Ferdinand, Evans, Cleverley, Valencia, Hernandez
Top 11 Liverpool - Gerrard, Suarez, Skrtel, Johnson, Agger, Reina, Downing, Allen, Sterling, Henderson, Shelvey

2. League only (cups excluded).

Top 11 MU - Evra, Carrick, RVP, Rafael, Ferdinand, De Gea, Valencia, Evans, Rooney, Cleverley, Young
Top 11 Liverpool - Gerrard, Suarez, Agger, Johnson, Skrtel, Reina, Allen, Sterling, Downing, Jose Enrique, Wisdom

3. Cup comps only (league excluded).

Top 11 MU - Hernandez, Rafael, De Gea, Rooney, Buttner, Anderson, Wellbeck, Cleverley, Fletcher, Nani, Giggs
Top 11 Liverpool - Downing, Carragher, Henderson, Shelvey, Jones, Coates, Skrtel, Suarez, Allen, Reina, Wisdom

4. Europe only.

Top 11 MU - De Gea, Hernandez, Rafael, Rooney, Evans, Cleverley, RVP, Fletcher, Wellbeck, Evra, Carrick
Top 11 Liverpool - Downing, Carragher, Shelvey, Henderson, Reina, Skrtel, Gerrard, Suarez, Borini, Johnson, Jose Enrique

5. Domestic cups only (sadly the Liverpool sample size for this is quite small)

Top 11 MU - Hernandez, Rafael, Buttner, Anderson, Giggs, Nani, Wellbeck, De Gea, Smalling, Rooney, Lindegaard
Top 11 Liverpool - Jones, Coates, Robinson, Downing, Henderson, Allen, Carragher, Wisdom, Shelvey, Suarez, Assaidi


Brilliant that Roy, really interesting graphs and something that will be very interesting to look back on and to use as a reference point as Brendan's squad hopefully evolves in the coming months and years. As you said in the OP this season has had a feel of two teams, almost a Lions tour scenario in which we largely have a weekend team for the League games and a mid week team for the Cup games. Hopefully that can change and we can have a more even distribution of games with a flatter graph especially in the League games.

Doing this has certainly been food for thought and I have been trying to establish some of the benefits rotation brings with it.


The obvious one to start with, rotation allows you to control the number of games your players have to play. Players need periods of recovery and recuperation between games to stay at an optimum level of fitness. That differs from player to player but ideally you would identify the players that need longer periods of recovery, players with previous injury problems and the players who rely on acceleration and explosiveness. The objective would be to try and reduce the number of times they play three games a week. Hopefully that allows you to reduce the risk of injury and to allow the players to keep their sharpness.

Players that spring to mind are Johnson, Agger, Gerrard, Sterling, Sturridge and Suarez.

From your graph on %ge of Cup minutes it is evident that we have already looked to protect Johnson, Agger and Gerrard with all three playing very few Cup minutes. Hopefully the recruitment of Sturridge and Coutinho plus any business we do in the summer will allow us to reduce the strain on Suarez.


With the decline of the Central League and the emphasis on younger players within the U21 League the need for rotation has increased for me. The days of a Geoff Twentyman bringing in rough diamonds that could be polished in the reserves have largely gone. There is such a gulf in quality and intensity between the first team and the U21 League that you need to blood players in the first team now, either yours or someone else's. The United Cup graph is very interesting with the likes of  Hernandez, Rafael, De Gea, Buttner, Anderson, Wellbeck and Cleverley being prevalent.

If we are to improve and to bring in quality at the top end of the scale then it is going to be even more important to rotate and to give opportunities to young players. Henderson is a perfect example of a young player getting games with the mid week team and forcing his way into the first choice line up. The Europa League games have been an absolute godsend for Henderson.


Rotation allows you to keep more players happy. If we are to compete at the top end of the Premier League and in Europe then we need to improve our squad depth both in terms of numbers and probably more importantly in terms of quality. To keep players happy and to keep a good spirit within the Clubs the players need to be kept involved and to play games.


We play in an incredibly diverse League and to be successful you need to be able to compete at Stoke one week, to overcome the park the bus teams the next and finally be able to win tactical battles against the teams at the top. Though it pains me to say it United have been brilliant at it. rotation and having a big squad has allowed them to have players like O'Shea and Brown who could play at full back and help to nullify the Neanderthals of Stoke, players like Hernandez and Tevez who have given them the fire power from the bench to blow away the park the bus team and finally players like Park and Giggs who have given them energy and intelligence in the games against the top sides.

None of those players with the exception of Giggs earlier in his career have been good enough to be nailed on starters but have given United an ability to go for a horses for courses approach and an ability to change the course of games. It will be interesting to see whether Brendan goes for that approach in the future or relies on his systems flexibility.

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