Before we begin, let’s take a short trip back to Sunday. You wake up, wherever you are in the world, with a wide grin, knowing that it is match day. After 105 long days, the wait was finally over. As usual, an hour prior to kick off, the starting line-ups get announced by the official handle of the teams. While it was known beforehand that the desperately awaited return of Ruben Loftus-Cheek would finally come to an end, the unanticipated exclusion of the likes of Reece James, Tammy Abraham and Christian Pulisic brought out the worst of the Chelsea community on Twitter.
While it was completely understandable to be mildly annoyed that we would have to wait slightly longer than expected to watch several of our young guns play, the abuse toward the coaching staff has made me question if several of our fans have heard of a term known as “rotation.” This wonderful word is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as ‘the passing of a privilege or responsibility to each member of a group in a regularly recurring order,’ and holds significance in the game of football. The most important component of the definition is the last three words: regularly recurring order.
The pandemic has shaken each and every corner of the world. Several industries and businesses have been affected, and sports are no different. Under these extraordinary and testing circumstances, every sport – including football – had to be brought to a standstill due to the stringent lockdown regulations. Fortunately, the Coronavirus crisis has receded in most parts of the world, allowing the respective leaders to relax the laws which urged every individual to stay home. Hence, football was back, albeit without fans to spur the sides on. However, to recover the time lost, the football governing bodies decided to lay out a schedule where every team has to play twice as frequently as they previously did. The clubs generally played a maximum of five or six games a month including European as well as domestic cup games. However, under the tentative schedule laid out by the Premier League, Chelsea have ten games in the period which commenced on the 21st of June, all the way to the 26th of July. This is without including our progression to the latter stages of the FA Cup should we manage to beat Leicester at the King Power stadium. On an average, that is a game every three days. And it is borderline impossible for any outfield player to play each and every single one of these games.
Hence, rotation is the key to unlocking opponents consistently in a bid to solidify our top four spot. This is also the reason I believe the post line-up meltdown on Friday was unjustified. Yes, there were several notable absentees, but we walked away from Birmingham with three points, which is all that matters at this stage of the season. The fact that all our competitors for that coveted Champions League spot dropped points (apart from Wolves) made the weekend even sweeter. I’m certain the backroom staff chose the players after hours of discussion and debate, along with analysis of the fitness level of the players. They also certainly had one eye on our Thursday night clash against champions Manchester City, who narrowly edged us 2-1 at the Etihad. Therefore, I would like to further drive the point home- remain patient throughout this period; I am certain your favourite player will feature, and the player which you do not particularly have a liking for (an ‘agenda’, if you will) will get dropped.
As a continuation to the previous point, it is also important to remain patient with the young players as they sometimes may not perform to their usual standards in every game. They might also not be at their optimal level of fitness, or might be playing their first competitive game in over a year- yes; I’m referring to Ruben Loftus-Cheek. It is understandable that after waiting for nearly thirteen months to watch the tank light the pitch up with his intricate technical ability, everyone expected him to play an important role in the Chelsea side. He was on the bench in our last couple of games before lockdown, and played the full 90 minutes in an U23 game. He also scored a brace in our 7-1 demolition of QPR behind closed doors prior to the resumption of Premier League action. Hence, a lot was expected of him, but he was evidently rusty, while also featuring on the wing where he is not accustomed to playing. After his rather unimpressive performance, fans have already started bashing him, which in my opinion, is nothing short of preposterous. Once again, I urge you to cultivate some patience.
Another youngster who was criticised heavily was Reece James, who in his short cameo gave the ball away on several occasions. Lampard had mentioned in his press conference that the right back was not 100% fit and had not taken part in either of the friendlies against Reading and QPR. Hence, he was bound to seem a little overwhelmed; being thrown into a game with your side defending a one goal lead. It is also interesting to notice that he replaced Willian- which means we switched to five at the back, and he occupied the right wing back role- where he hasn’t been comfortable all season. I have noticed several accounts passing harsh comments on his performance, which is very poor and thoughtless, considering he has looked our most creative player in several games.
Chelsea is a club which is not short of options when it comes to depth- we have two players for (nearly) every position. To add to this, we also have a fantastic youth academy with a long list of promising talents, several of which could make their debuts for the first team. Keeping in mind that this is their first taste of top level football, it is important to remain patient and make an informed decision, if you have not followed his youth career. Comments such as “he will never be good enough for Chelsea” should not be made, especially while not having a complete understanding of his playing style. In conclusion, I would like to elucidate two important points- the first being to understand the art of rotation and not criticising the teamsheets baselessly, and the second, maintaining patience with the players to prove their worth in the side, young and experienced alike. As the old saying goes, patience is not the ability to wait, but the art of keeping a good attitude while waiting.