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[Blog] To Rotate or Not to Rotate?
Written by itfcjoe on Thursday, 29th Mar 2012 08:55

Over the past few months, Paul Jewell has proven himself to be a manager that doesn't like to change the team to keep it fresh over the course of a season. He prefers to play a settled line up week in-week out - and while this is a sentiment that many fans seem to agree with - I think this is the wrong way to manage a squad over a long and arduous season.

Gone are the days of 'pick your best XI', 'you can't change a winning team' etc when you see that footballers now cover twice the distance they did in the 80s and early 90s and at a much higher intensity.

The 2011/12 season at Ipswich Town has been one of runs of form - three defeats on the spin, one loss in eight, seven defeats on the bounce, back to back wins, two points out of 18 and more recently 24 points in our last 12.

This shows a huge lack of consistency and also in my mind that we are a confidence team, capable of Championship-winning form over a sustained period, but also of relegation form with the same set of players.

I personally think one of the main reasons for the change of fortune in our runs can be something as simple as the fact that the players are tired. In the Premiership the top teams rotate heavily to help them through a 38-game season, but yet this habit does not seem to have found its way down to the Championship where 46 games are played in the same time period with the same international breaks.

To veer away from Ipswich for a bit, Spurs have had their title challenge effectively ended in recent weeks, the media can't seem to fathom why, but over the Christmas period I was speaking to a colleague who predicted this, in the four-game period over Christmas, Harry Redknapp did not change the team - and the players looked shattered.

Now they are not fit enough to play their high intensity game - once a player is gone, it takes almost a two-week window for them to regain full fitness. If they are managed properly over busy periods this can be avoided.

I think Ipswich are a similar team to Tottenham, when we have been at our best in both good runs in the season, it has been when playing the game at a high intensity and tempo and overpowering opposition.

Tuesday night's game clearly showed this. In the first half with a slow tempo we were poor. We don't have the patience and technique to keep the ball for long periods of time, Middlesbrough were happy to knock it around and wait for an opportunity to present itself. We are the opposite and play a very 'English' game - get the ball forward quickly, run with pace at defenders and try and pick up second balls in dangerous areas and attack with intensity to make something happen or win a set piece.

This high intensity game has been very successful, but isn't sustainable if we use the same players week-in, week-out. In the month of March we have now had seven games in 24 days. Therefore, with the 4-2-3-1 formation we are playing, there are four attacking spots available for each game and by definition 28 for the games in March - Daryl Murphy, Lee Martin, Michael Chopra and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas have occupied 27 of these - with the only change Jason Scotland coming in for Lee Martin at Hull.

In the last three games, at around the hour mark, Chopra, Martin and Emmanuel-Thomas have tired badly. This was particularly evident last night when at one point Nicky Bailey ran past Chopra like Rio Ferdinand gliding past Micky Quinn!

Martin has arguably been our most important player in the recent good run, and it is hard to make a case for dropping him, but Jewell must realise that we are flogging our players and without sufficient recovery time between matches they will not recover - I'd be surprised if any of that front four fire on all cylinders between now and the end of the season.

In March, our two attacking midfield players not currently starting, Josh Carson and Ryan Stevenson, have played approximately 90 minutes football between them.

Taking away from the fact it is good to see an Academy graduate like Carson play more, I struggle to see that the team would have been sufficiently weakened by given Carson and Stevenson three starts in this period to allow the key players to rest.

It could have worked along that way that either Carson or Stevenson started - and one of the first choice four was given a rest to recover. Murphy clearly appreciated the total rest he was given for the Blackpool game as his best form of the season followed this.

Squad rotation is seen as a dirty word in football but with the intensity the game is played at these days it is vital that the team is kept fresh. A huge squad isn't required to do this, a defence shouldn't rotate as these players cover less ground and have less need to have explosive pace, and greater natural rest periods during the game. We have looked more defensively solid when relationships have been able to be built and rotating at the back four is a recipe for disaster.

Using Tuesday night's game as an example, a key player who looked the freshest at the 90-minute mark was Grant Leadbitter, he had an enforced rest on Saturday, but would he have been able to make the run to score his goal yesterday with 90 minutes on Saturday under his belt? We'll obviously never know, but he looked good for a rest, whereas Lee Bowyer looked leggy from around 30 minutes in having played three games in six days.

In order to rotate a squad, you need around 10 midfield and attacking players, with this it allows you to make two or three changes a game to ensure that everyone is kept fresh, and it doesn't end up like earlier in the season where both Chopra and Scotland were tired and Nathan Ellington and Emmanuel-Thomas came out into the side with no match sharpness and looked poor and were subsequently dropped - this isn't rotation, it is dropping/resting players.

Jewell's use (or lack) of substitutions also doesn't help the matter, in the last two home games both Emmanuel-Thomas and Chopra have looked knackered for the last 15 minutes but been left on when there has been a spare sub to use and allow them a break to begin recovery for next game.

I think we have the 10 midfield and attacking players in: Bowyer, Andy Drury, Leadbitter, Luke Hyam, Murphy, Martin, Emmanuel-Thomas, Carson, Chopra and Stevenson (Scotland deliberately excluded due to contract restrictions). And with these players, if the squad is managed properly, all 10 will be able to stay match fit without being burned out by playing eight games in a month.

Unfortunately for this season, I think the squad rotation ship has sailed, and unless key players can be given a 10-14 day rest they will not be able to hit the heights of their best performance. Hopefully Paul Jewell spends time talking to Sir Alex Ferguson this summer, who is the master of rotation - he has openly admitted that he knows the XI he will be playing four or five games in advance in order to ensure everyone is fit to play and peaking. They do have a bigger squad than us, but it could be argued that he is top of the league with a relatively poor squad when compared to their rivals.

If Jewell can embrace rotation and do it effectively, I think it will give us a huge advantage next season.

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Garv added 11:54 - Mar 29
Interesting. Regarding the 'lack of' substitutions I think Jewell has learnt from earlier in the season when you could say substitutions cost us the game. Forest away possibly? That was sometimes down to Chopra/Scotland being knackered as neither can hardly ever last 90 minutes. I can excuse Scotland as he's certainly not young anymore, but Chopra is supposedly still in his prime/just past it and despite the incredible effort he puts in should be fitter. So some of it was down to fitness, some was down to Jewell thinking we needed a change. A couple of times it back fired so I think you have to be very wary when making substitutions.

itfcjoe added 12:10 - Mar 29

I agree with the sentiment that subs can cost the game, but if used well they should also be able to win the game. When JET can't run for the last 10 minutes and we have a fit and fresh Josh Carson on the bench does it not make sense to put the fresh legs on against a tired full back?

I think Scotland and Chopra are good subs for each other as they offer a very different challenge to the defence, but Chopra can't last 90 minutes and by keeping him on those last 20 minutes, it then means that he has less time to recover for the following game. He didn't train for 3 weeks when in rehab but has barely missed a game, it will catch up with him sometime and looks as though it has to be honest.

Daleyitfc added 15:17 - Mar 29
Rotation only works when you have 25+ good quality players : we don't even have 5!
Even some of the lesser Premiership clubs don't have enough decent players to rotate them without damaging the team's performance significantly : there is no chance that anyone at our level could pull it off. At Championship level, you need half a dozen Premiership quality players and about a dozen good Championship players to get promoted. We are 12/13 short of that, even without rotating. So forget it.

JammyDodgerrr added 15:33 - Mar 29
As you said, tuesday was the perfect example of this, Chopra and JET looked shattered from the word go TBH.

itfcjoe added 16:50 - Mar 29

Why would you need 25 players to rotate a squad?! You only need to make 2 or 3 changes a game to ensure your top players only play 4 out of every 5. Rotation isn't really required for your back 5 as less intensity there.

So you just need a bit of depth for front 6, Chopra and Scotland can rotate, and the front 3 of JET, Martin and Murphy can rotate with Carson (and hopefully Stevenson)....we've also got 5 central midfielders (Hyam, Leadbitter, Bowyer, Drury and Bullard) so our squad is plenty big enough to rotate as it is

Nthsuffolkblue added 23:16 - Mar 30
Some interesting ideas here but my feeling of this season has been that the losing runs have coincided with a pattern of 4 or 5 changes before kick off every match and the winning runs have coincided with a pattern of none or one or two changes. I know it is not all as simple as that but this doesn't quite fit with the philosophy proposed here. Indeed this philosophy (rest players regularly/constantly change the side) did not seem to serve our previous manager too well either.
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