Fantasy football rounds 5 & 6: A question of rotation

We are a month into the fantasy football season, and by now you will hopefully have a settled squad which you are happy with. So now you can sit back and relax, right? Sadly not. This week I want to have a look at the tricky subject of squad rotation, and how you can stay one step ahead of the game.

It has been a relatively sedate start to the season for the Premier League clubs thus far, with just four league games played in the five weekends so far, an international break and (for teams not participating in European competition) the Carling Cup second round.

But we are now entering one of the busiest stretches of the year, where the top clubs face a relentless calendar of two-a-week fixtures which will stretch their resources to the limit. For instance, here is Arsenal‘s schedule over the next two months, which in theory could see the likes of Cesc Fabregas called on to play 17 games in 61 days:

Today: Braga (H), Champions League

Sat 18/9: Sunderland (A)

Tue 21/9: Tottenham (A), Carling Cup

Sat 25/9: West Brom (H)

Tue 28/9: Partizan Belgrade (A), Champions League

Sun 3/10: Chelsea (A)

Fri 8/10: Euro 2012 qualifiers

Tue 12/10: Euro 2012 qualifiers

Sat 16/10: Birmingham (H)

Tue 19/10: Shakhtar Donetsk (H), Champions League

Sun 24/10: Man City (A)

w/c 25/10: Carling Cup 4th round

Sat 30/10: West Ham (H)

Wed 3/11: Shakhtar Donetsk (A), Champions League

Sun 7/11: Newcastle (H)

Wed 10/11: Wolves (A)

Sun 14/11: Everton (A)

The other English clubs still involved in Europe – Chelsea, Man Utd, Tottenham, Man City and Liverpool – face similar schedules, with Champions League and Europa League games providing a regular diet of midweek fixtures and occasional long flights to distant away matches.

Clearly, given the gruelling physical nature of modern football, it is virtually impossible for a player to play every minute of every match, particularly during such a hectic time of the season. Which is why most of the bigger clubs will routinely rotate their squads during this part of the season, giving first team players the odd game off to minimise their risk of injury and keep them fresh for later in the season. (And it is why the bigger teams generally field an entire second-string side in the Carling Cup.)

Bacary Sagna - frequently rested?

The process of squad rotation has already begun, with a number of managers choosing to rest players who had been heavily involved in international double-headers the previous week. Arsène Wenger, for instance, opted to put the French trio of Bacary Sagna, Gaël Clichy and Abou Diaby on the bench against Bolton on Saturday, while Carlo Ancelotti did the same with Florent Malouda.

It is well worth getting to know the practices of the top teams better. You can start by having a quick read of the team sheets from last weekend’s games to get a feel for which managers are particularly active in rotating their starters, and which players are more likely to be rested on occasion.

For instance, Arsenal fans will know that injury-prone midfielder Tomáš Rosický rarely starts back-to-back weekend and weekday games; if he starts in the Champions League tonight, odds are he will be on the bench for the trip to Sunderland on Saturday. Last season Sagna was frequently rested, with Emmanuel Eboue regularly deputising at right back. Even captain and creative fulcrum Fabregas was occasionally benched for ‘easier’ games. But Thomas Vermaelen and William Gallas (now with Spurs) generally played every game.

Frank Lampard - ever-present?

Similarly, John Terry, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard, when fit, are generally immovable fixtures in any Chelsea line-up, but the in-form Malouda – he played only the final six minutes last weekend, annoying thousands of fantasy managers (like me!) who were denied the use of a higher scoring substitute.

Such considerations should play a role in your own transfers and squad selections over the next few weeks. They should not stop you from picking a player from a top team, but you should at least think twice before doing so. And now, more than perhaps any other time of the season, you should be looking for players from middle and lower-ranking sides who do not have to bear the burden of regular midweek games. Given the choice between two players from, say, Man City and Everton of similar costs with similar point-scoring prospects, consider whether one is more likely than the other to start every Premier League match over the coming weeks. All other things being equal, you should really think hard about going for the player from the squad with the less busy schedule.

At the very least, you should have a fully-stocked substitutes’ bench to ensure you can always field a team of eleven on any given weekend. It is at this time of the season when those cheap players you bought from Blackpool, West Brom and Wigan start to play a valuable role in keeping your points total ticking over. Those extra few points every week soon start to add up.

You still won’t get me stuffing my squad full of West Ham players any time soon, though.

There will be no fantasy football tips next week, as I am on holiday. Normal service will be resumed the following week.


About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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