For a lot of people in football, squad rotation is one of the worst things ever invented. They hate it. They think that it upends momentum, that it annoys players, that what a team needs is a settled shape and settled personnel. They don’t get it at all.
But from the moment Ange took over the club he eschewed the whole idea that he should have a “best eleven.” In the modern game, that’s the concept that is regarded as nonsensical. If you are a manager and you can easily choose a best eleven you aren’t doing the job right. There should be debate and competition about every position.
What does our best front line look like? I mean four players; the attacking midfielder who plays behind the striker, the striker himself and the two men either side of him. Pick four. Ask someone else to pick four. Ask someone else and then someone else. Don’t be surprised to get four different answers. That’s how good we are right now.
That’s what strength in depth looks like. And it works for us, although a lot of people had their doubts at the start of the campaign when Ange started to do it.
One game has gone badly for us domestically, and a lot of people blamed it on the number of changes Ange made. I didn’t because he’d made even more changes for the game in the League Cup the week before. Some folk said that the whole concept was crazy and that it would never work for us, that we should always have our best eleven on the pitch.
But who is our best eleven right now? Is that an easy choice? Central defence might be, and some will argue that the central midfield picks itself. But that’s only because Turnbull is just back from injury and McGregor is still out. Put them firmly back in the fold and then what? Who is our best right back? Taylor might look like our standout left back, but has Bernabei done much wrong when he’s been in the team? None of this is straightforward.
Who is our best attacking midfielder? Is it Turnbull, Hatate, O’Riley, McGregor, Haksabanovic, Jota or Mooy? All of them have a shout, and amazingly Ange tried Kyogo in that slot in midweek. I didn’t think that worked particularly well but it was interesting.
It is certainly not cut and dried in the top half where out wide on the left we have Jota, Haksabanovic, Maeda, Forrest (at a push), Abada (at times) and where Kyogo can also play. On the right we can comfortably rely on Abada, Forrest, Haksabanovic and Jota. Our central striker can be rotated between Giakoumakis, Kyogo, Maeda and Abada. Forrest has played there and always looks like a good option. This is why it is working.
Not only does it keep players fit, but it means that everyone gets his games. You can see how those who are starting know they have to perform because there are players itching to get into the side. It has created a real competitive spirit in the team and that is translating well into the performances we are seeing in the matches.
It spreads responsibility. It spreads the credit. It keeps players on their toes. And it does not – and we can now say this with certainty – it does not weaken the team in any significant way. Squad rotation is working well, and there are times when our ability to bring real quality off the bench has made a huge difference in the matches.
The manager’s decision to do it is fully vindicated as far as I’m concerned.