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Talking Tactics

Season trends: Busy schedule not reflected in rotation

Adrian Clarke 7 Jun 2021
David Moyes, Said Benrahma and Manuel Lanzini, West Ham

Adrian Clarke analyses why there were not widespread changes to line-ups in 2020/21

Adrian Clarke identifies tactical trends from the 2020/21 Premier League season. 

Fewer rotations

With the season starting later than usual in September, due to the impact of COVID-19 on the previous campaign, there was a far more congested fixture schedule for Premier League managers to negotiate.

The general expectation was that managers would rest and rotate their players more often to cope with the greater frequency of matches.

But surprisingly, such an approach was not as widespread as many anticipated.

While the average number of changes to starting XIs increased from 80.25 to 85.3 per club over the campaign as a whole, many teams actually made fewer alterations than they had in 2019/20.

Seeking stability

Aston Villa proved a prime example as Dean Smith looked to build a settled side.

Smith made the second-lowest number of changes with 47, down from 79 the previous season.

West Ham United, Brighton & Hove Albion and Tottenham Hotspur also reduced the reshuffling of their starting XI.

Clubs who rotated least
Club Starting XI changes Difference from 2019/20
Leeds 45 -3
Aston Villa 47 -32
Burnley 50 +6
West Ham 61 -12
West Brom 67 -21

Manchester United adopted a different approach and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made 120 changes, almost double his total of 61 the previous year.

Other clubs with European commitments such as Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal also tweaked their line-ups on a more regular basis.

Clubs who rotated most
Club Starting XI changes Difference from 2019/20
Man City 136 -8
Chelsea 133 +34
Arsenal 124 +20
Man Utd 120 +59
Everton 93 -5

However, fringe players across the 20 clubs did not get the opportunities they had probably hoped for.

Compared with the previous season, only 10 extra players received match time, with the total number used rising from 522 to 532.

While it seemed inevitable that managers would need to dig deeper into their squads to avoid injuries and fatigue, the reality was that the need for positive results took precedence over such considerations.

Selection policies did not undergo a radical transformation at all.

Also in this series

Part 1: Patient passing produces record figures
Part 2: Headed goals back in fashion
Part 3: Free-kicks fall and penalties rise
Part 4: Away success rises as top sides falter
Part 6: Season trends: Managers changing shape more often

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