What Effect Would Chelsea Winning the League Have on Rotation

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[fusion_dropcap boxed=”no” boxed_radius=”” class=”” id=”” color=””]C[/fusion_dropcap]helsea’s players proved their Premier League pedigree once again at the weekend with a solid 3-0 win against Everton.

The entire Blues backline – which in the past few weeks has been as convincing as a United Airlines seating plan – delivered clean sheet returns, while Cahill and Pedro even managed double figures.

The combination of great form under Conte and minimal threat of rotation (due to a lack of European duties) has seen Chelsea’s key players become the spine of a number of Premier League fantasy football sides in 2016/17.

Chelsea in Fantasy Premier League this season

At the time of writing, the Blues are top of the Premier League by four points and are in the final of the FA Cup. The likes of Hazard, Costa and Alonso have been raking the points in and it all looks pretty rosy for fans and FPL managers alike.

There is a chance the mood could change – for the latter anyway – should Chelsea tie up the title a couple of games early. Should the Blues continue this fine form and tie up their fifth title, what effect would it have on player rotation?

After securing three successive titles with Juventus in Italy, Antonio Conte is no stranger to pressure and knows how to handle the title crunch.

The Italian managed to secure titles in each of the 11/12, 12/13 and 13/14 seasons, whilst in some cases juggling European and domestic competitions as well. So what does Conte’s past form tell us about his rotation policy?

2011/12 season: Conte’s first title with Juventus

In his first season in Turin, Conte achieved the great feat of taking a Juventus to the brink of title glory after finishing 7th the season before. They travelled to Cagliari knowing a win would secure the championship.

Here was how they lined up:

As you can see from my crude diagram, Juventus lined up in their familiar formation as they geared up to win the title. It was a strong lineup featuring key players like Buffon, Chiellini and bearded beauty Pirlo, while everyone in the lineup had started at least 20 games – enough to be considered a first team player.

Juventus went on to win this game 2-0 and secure the title. There was still more for the Turin outfit to play for however, as they had one league game left before the Coppa Italia final against Napoli.

With the league sewn and only seven days between their last league fixture against Atalanta and the chance for more silverware, how did Conte lineup?

For their final league game, Conte opted for a somewhat weakened lineup. Out went the likes of Buffon, Vidal, Marchisio and Vucinic, and in came squad players like Marrone, Estigarribia and Padoin. If there were any doubts as to whether this was a weakened lineup, any frontline involving FPL flops like Borriello and Giaccherini should act as confirmation (in Giaccherini’s defence, it can be hard not to flop in a Sunderland shirt).

Also important are the parallels this season draws with Chelsea’s current campaign. Juventus were preparing for a cup final the following weekend, while their seventh-placed finish the previous year also meant they weren’t in any European competitions. Sound familiar?

What is interesting also is the players that remained. Andrea Pirlo played his 37th match of the season despite being 32 at this point, while Lichtsteiner, Chiellini and Bonucci also featured. In Pirlo’s case, this was probably due to his role being so specific and difficult to find a replacement for, while Conte likely decided his reserves at centre-back and right-back just weren’t good enough.

Conte grabs Scudetto no.2

Despite contending with the rigours of Champions League football and being the team to beat in Serie A, Juventus came out even stronger in their second season under Conte. With four games remaining, they only needed one win to secure a second successive Scudetto.

At this point, however, they had been knocked out of all other competitions, meaning Conte was free to use his charges as he saw fit.

Perhaps as the result of a busier season, Conte seemed to have rotated his players slightly more. Chiellini, Bonucci and Lichtsteiner played less this time around (although injury curtailed the former’s start to the season), while Asamoah and Pogba – both new signings in the summer – took a little while to be bedded in.

Juventus won the game 1-0 (despite Pogba being sent off), and therefore claimed the league with three games to spare. With nothing else to play for, let’s see how Conte rotated during the end of the season.

Conte chose to chop and change his squad for every fixture. Of all the players from their strongest lineup vs Palermo, only Chiellini, Isla and Giaccherini started all three, while Pirlo, Vidal and Bonucci started two. It is worth noting the gap between the Atalanta and Cagliari matches – just three days apart – is the same as in Chelsea’s double gameweek.

Should the Blues secure the title during or even prior to Gameweek 37, Fantasy managers hopes of scoring big of the Blues’ key players may well be scuppered by a mix of rotation and poor form, with Juve dropping points in the final two games.

Conte’s final season and third Scudetto

The black and white-striped juggernaut continued on in Conte’s third (and ultimately final) season in Turin, as Juventus again had the chance to bag the league with three games to spare.

They didn’t fare so well in other competitions however; the Old Lady bowed out of the Coppa Italia in the quarter-finals against Roma, while Europe proved a tough nut for Conte to crack. Despite their fine league form, Juve couldn’t make it out of their Champions League group and qualified instead for the Europa League.

The match at Sassuolo was sandwiched in between semi-finals against Benfica with Juventus trailing 2-1 after the first leg in Portugal, meaning Conte would had a decision to make with the side he picked to potentially bring home a triple league success.

Perhaps with an eye on the second leg against Benfica days later, the Italian benched regulars Bonucci, Lichtsteiner and Vidal (although all three were later brought on).

The end result was a 3-1 win, but their joy was tempered somewhat as Benfica dumped them out of Europe. This meant, again, with three games remaining there was little to play for but pride.

The Italian made no less than seven changes against Atalanta, although one of these was the return of regular right-back Lichtsteiner. Interestingly he recalled Tevez and Llorente for the Roma game and bar Padoin in midfield, Conte arguably named his strongest side.

Similarly, Conte recalled legend Buffon for the final game and named another strong lineup, although defenders Chiellini and Barzagli missed out. Only Lichtsteiner and Pogba (now an established first-team player), started all three games.

What does this mean for Chelsea in Fantasy Premier League?

Should Chelsea tie up the league early it would appear, based on past form at least, that Conte will use a few squad players at the expense of his title-winning stars. Let’s have a look who could be under threat based on his most-used lineup this season:

As we can see by the fact no player has less than 20 starts, this is very much the preferred lineup for Conte. Only four players have below 30 starts and considering Alonso and Moses came only started featuring after the change to 3-4-3, only Matic and Pedro can really be considered rotation risks; especially with quality replacements in Fabregas and Willian.

Alonso, in fact, is arguably one of the more secure players – something will come with a sigh of relief from with his large ownership – as he not only lacks an adequate deputy, but also fulfills a very specialised role in the side. Similar to Pirlo, this makes him difficult to drop without changing system – something Conte appears loath to do. Luiz is a similar case with his ball-playing skills in defense – music to the ears of those hoping the Sideshow Bob look-alike will chip in with a long-overdue thunderbolt.

Bar those two, the only other players who perform those kinds of roles are Kante (who, quality player aside, should be in nobody’s team) and Hazard. Given the damage the Belgian can do in one game and with penalties in the bag, managers would be unwise to part with him.

Another quality Conte appears to value in a fixture crunch is versatility. We saw that with his use of Giaccherini in no less than three different positions, while Pogba was also used all over midfield. For this reason, it may well be worth holding onto Azpilicueta as the Spaniard can play (and has played) anywhere in defense. In fact, if you listen to Mourinho, he can play anywhere and even rustle up the post-match grub – values Conte will find difficult to keep on the bench.

So who should managers part with? Well apart from the aforementioned Matic and Pedro, Cahill looks likely to give way for at least one game while Courtois is at risk should the manager reward second-choice Begovic for his patience. With Diego Costa rumoured to be leaving – with Spain, China and a nightclub bouncer job mooted destinations – Conte may just look to experiment with Batshuayi, or even Hazard, up top given the chance.

Hopefully this will aid managers looking at planning or playing their wildcards in the coming weeks and, in the event of a Costa hat-trick or monster Kante haul, provide some method to my madness when it all goes wrong. Ciao!

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