Saturday’s 2-2 draw at the Vitality Stadium seemed more like a point gained rather than two lost, considering how the game unfolded. Although Bournemouth have proven to be especially resilient against us, this is the first time they have done the double over Chelsea. What hurts even more is that, had we won, we would have moved just three points behind third-placed Leicester who lost 1-0 away to bottom-placed Norwich. This draw also leaves us dangerously close to the chasing pack, and we could soon find ourselves out of the top four.
Lampard decided to continue with the 3-4-3 formation, mainly due to the lengthy injury list at Cobham. However, what irked most fans following yesterday’s disappointing performance is the substitutions- not the substitutions per se, but more the ACTUAL substitutes. When we were 2-1 down and in need of a goal, the only attacking players available on the bench were Willian, Barkley and Batshuayi. Loftus-Cheek was also on the bench, but the coaching staff opted not to risk him following his return from a long-term injury. It should be noted, however, that these restricted options had more to do with our ridiculously long list of absentees rather than our inactivity in the January market. This season, in particular, we have witnessed a staggering number of injuries under new manager Frank Lampard. So, is this a trend or a consequence of his rigorous training sessions? Or, just pure bad luck as most suggest? Let’s find out by analysing our injury history since the departure of Eva Carneiro who had a great track record of keeping players fit at Chelsea.
2014-15 season under Jose Mourinho, with Eva Carneiro still at the club:
Total number of PL games missing players due to injury: 42
Total number of UCL games missing players due to injury: 9
TOTAL GAMES MISSED DUE TO INJURY: 51
This was our title winning campaign under the guidance of Jose Mourinho, who was back at the helm for his second term. It is also important to note that Eva Carneiro was still the head of the medical staff at Chelsea. During this season, the first team players missed a total of 51 games due to injury (only injuries, as suspensions/other criteria were not included). Costa missed nine games, while Ramires and Mikel missed seven each. The rest had minor injuries and missed one or two games. This figure is reasonably low and could be due to the pragmatic tactics of the manager, or the good work of the medical staff.
2015-16 season under Jose Mourinho and Guus Hiddink, with Eva Carneiro sacked:
Total number of PL games missing players due to injury: 71
Total number of UCL games missing players due to injury: 19
TOTAL GAMES MISSED DUE TO INJURY: 90
This was the season which recorded the infamous Mourinho-Eva-gate, where Jose reportedly abused Eva in Portuguese when she decided to attend to Eden Hazard after he went down injured while Chelsea trailed at home to Swansea. Under the rules of the game, she was just doing her job as the referee had called the medical team on the pitch. Eva Carneiro soon left her post as the head of medical staff and sued the club as well as Jose Mourinho. Jose Mourinho, too, was relieved of his duties as Chelsea manager for the second time after losing to historic league winners Leicester City. This season saw a significant rise in injuries compared to the previous, with players missing a total of 49 games more in both competitions as compared to the previous year. This figure is slightly inflated due to the long term injuries of Zouma (out 15 games) and Falcao (out 24 games). Regardless of these two outliers, however, it’s not hard to deduce this rise in injuries could be attributed to the loss of Eva Carneiro, as the style of play was similar to the prior season.
2016-17 season under Antonio Conte, without Eva Carneiro:
TOTAL GAMES MISSED DUE TO INJURY: 30
After finishing tenth in the previous season, we were ineligible to feature in either of the European competitions, hence why this figure seems comparatively low. However, this figure is low even if we compare only the number of games missing players in the league alone, which were 42 and 71 in the respective previous seasons. Zouma further contributes to 11 games owing to his knee injury, meaning the actual number of games missed due to injuries were 19. Antonio Conte’s style was also mainly based on counter attacking football with quick build-up, and hence did not cause strain on the players. Absence of midweek European games also provided the players with sufficient rest, and did not cause fatigue-related injuries. This also enabled us to minimise rotation, and we comfortably won the league ahead of our other title rivals.
2017-18 season under Antonio Conte:
Total number of PL games missing players due to injury: 58
Total number of UCL games missing players due to injury: 12
TOTAL GAMES MISSED DUE TO INJURY: 70
The season following a title winning one seems to consistently have a similar outcome, and we predictably struggled that season and finished fifth despite being in second place in early December. Events took a turn for the worse when Conte fell out with the board over disagreements in the transfer market. The number of injuries is massively overstated as David Luiz was apparently ‘injured’ for 23 of the 70 games, though it was quite evident that it had more to do with disciplinary issues with the Brazilian defender. He also walked straight into Maurizio Sarri’s starting eleven, which is quite unheard of for a player who had been injured for the better part of the previous season. Excluding this, the games missed stand at 38 in the league and 9 in the Champions League respectively, implying that the injuries remained constant compared to the previous year (30). Hence, we can easily conclude that his playing style was pleasant on the players’ fitness levels, and did not strain them as off-the-ball movement was minimal and we relied more on counter attacks.
2018-19 season under Maurizio Sarri:
Total number of PL games missing players due to injury: 15
Total number of UEL games missing players due to injury: 10
TOTAL GAMES MISSED DUE TO INJURY: 25
Maurizio Sarri was hired to change the style of play from a counter-attacking system to a more possession-based one, similar to the likes to Barcelona and Manchester City. Stamford Bridge had been deprived of attacking football since Carlo Ancelotti was at the helm, and another Italian manager was tasked with reproducing it. This season was always going to be tough being a transition one. His system seemed redundant, and revolved around perfecting the philosophy instead of adapting to opponents and finding new tactics. It was likewise an ideology that expounded possession-based football rather than counter pressing, and hence did not strain the players. Europa League games allowed for certain key personnel to be rotated, and this eradicated the risk of fatigue-related injuries. Having only 15 games missing players in the league is a ridiculously low figure, and we must commend the manager as well as the staff who ensured optimal fitness levels at all times.
2019-20 season under Frank Lampard:
Total number of PL games missing players due to injury: 86
Total number of UCL games missing players due to injury: 22
TOTAL GAMES MISSED DUE TO INJURY: 108
Finally, we have reached our current season. What we can observe is a staggering number of games missing players due to injury. This figure exceeds the previous two combined, and we are only in March. This campaign has been horrific in terms of luck on all fronts, be it tough draws in cup competitions, VAR decisions going against us, or the injury crisis. In fact, I cannot remember a single game where we have had all our first-choice players fit to feature. Even if we choose to exclude the 32 games that Loftus-Cheek has missed due to his long-term injury, we arrive at 76, which is still more than four out of our past five seasons. The reasons for this incredible upsurge could be twofold: a.) the squad is somewhat inexperienced and not used to playing at this level for a consistent period of time, or b.) Lampard’s man management is responsible. While the first option seems plausible, all the scales tilt toward the latter. Most of our injuries are recurring, likely meaning that the player has been rushed to fitness and not given sufficient time for recovery.
Another explanation could be the fact that Lampard’s style of play is very hectic and demanding on the players. His style revolves around relentless high pressure on the opposition and quick movement of the ball while in possession. Player movement is also essential for this to work, and could be proving a burden for the players. Whichever of the options it is, Lampard and the medical staff must pinpoint the root cause and eliminate it. With a figure this irrationally high, it surely cannot be due to sheer bad luck. Our inactivity in the January window, despite having the ban overturned, has left us with paper-thin depth, and it is very important for the management to preserve our best players for the upcoming important games. Otherwise, the remainder of our season will likely pan out to be one frustration after another.