According to football stats company Opta, title contenders Manchester United have used the joint most players in the league so far this season with 24 different players running out for the Devils.
There are positive and negative elements to having a large roster of players regularly getting game time. On the positive end you can trust your fringe players to come in when needed and perform to the required level. The negative aspect is it can sometimes be hard to maintain form and build up momentum when there are too many switches in personnel.
Arsenal and Manchester United aren’t kept apart by much in the league but they occupy different ends of the rotation table. United’s southern rivals have used the joint lowest amount of players so far this season with just 19.
There are positive and negative elements to that too. The Gunners have picked up a great amount of form due to their consistent selection but the down side to that is the team gets so used to playing a certain way a different face can throw a spanner into the works. They’ve lost Ramsey to injury and that could completely change the balance of their team. Not having a deep squad almost means you suffer more with injuries.
The key is finding a balance between effective and regular rotation to keep all your players at peak fitness and in some degree of good form. This is the basis for almost every title win of the last decade. No team has won the title when they have had more than 20 “key” players.
It used to be you had to play 10 games to be eligible for a title medal so that’s the basis of this observation. No Premier League side has won the title where they have had 20 players with more than 10 starts to their name with some sides winning it with as low as 17.
Can United find this balance to win the title? The pundits and bookmakers seem to think so with Betway fancying Manchester United to pick up at least one major trophy this season. It’s early days in the league but using 24 players already actively helps with finding that balance towards the business end of the season. Introducing players in February or March because of injury or fatigue can be costly. Look at Arsenal of two seasons ago, they looked to be favourites for the title topping the table for 120 days then the cracks started to show because of overplaying their key performers and the guys who came in weren’t up to the task.
Raymond Verheijen spoke out in praise of Van Gaal recently and said Wenger could learn how to manage Ramsey properly by following the Dutchman’s example. Details like that can be the difference in finishing first or third. Details like progress over tradition. Van Gaal believes the winter schedule and lack of a break holds England and English teams back. Conversely, Wenger believes it’s a tradition that shouldn’t stop and he isn’t alone in thinking like that. Progressive thinking and management isn’t gladly welcomed in England by the vast majority of people and clubs. It’s why Manchester United is so suited to Van Gaal, we are the embodiment of progress in English football.
Van Gaal recognises the limitations of our traditions and plans for it. When other teams are looking shattered in January and Chelsea and City are trying to counteract that by flooding the league with more oil money we’ll be there making shrewd signings with our own money to complement the fresher squad we will have thanks to the manager’s methods.
His training methods are about technical quality and excellence on the field; not 10 mile runs and double training sessions so the players will recover better between games. Plus, effective rotation will afford players like Schweinsteiger, Rooney and Carrick rest when they need it whilst simultaneously keeping their replacements in good form.
Fighting on more than one front has killed many a team’s chances for the title, you only have to look at how poorly Liverpool cope with being in the Champions League compared to how much they threaten the league when they are out of it to know it’s no mean feat to challenge domestically and in Europe.
We have the squad to do something special this season but this is a game of fine margins. We’ll have ups and downs, victories and losses, all through the season, but as long as we pay attention to the details we’ll come up trumps. Effective squad use is one of those details and so far we have that nailed.