Chelsea is now entering the midweek cup part of the season. Frank Lampard needs to use these cups to rest his key players and rotate fringe players in.
In his peak years, it was hardly unusual to see Frank Lampard suit up for close to 4000 minutes. That is a pretty heavy load for any player but it also may be the root of Lampard opting to rotate little and play key figures a ton last season at Derby County.
Fikayo Tomori played 4811 minutes at Derby County last season. Mason Mount played 3838, with the only difference between the two being Mount’s injury in the late winter months. Admittedly, Lampard’s squad at Derby County was not the biggest or the highest quality but that should not distract from the fact that five players broke the 3500 minute mark at Derby last season. The main thing that shows is that there are some players that Lampard saw as nearly undroppable regardless of how thick and fast the games were coming.
That will not be a sustainable notion this season. Not to take away from the Championship, but Premier League matches and Champions League matches, combined with the FA Cup and League Cup Derby County also had last season, are a different beast. Lampard may already have his best XI in his mind, but he needs to use the cups to rest and rotate his squad.
Simply look at how Chelsea played against Sheffield United versus earlier matches in the season. Lampard asks a lot of his players on and off the ball and that can be incredibly taxing. Conditioning and seeing out games has been a struggle simply because the demands are so high. And if it was an issue with a week between games, imagine how it will be with Champions League and other midweek games added on.
Look no further than Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount in the match against Sheffield. In every other match prior, the two were playing lights out and full throttle for 90. But against Sheffield, they more or less ran out of gas before halftime. Those numbers will improve with time but it will be a struggle with midweek games.
Of course, training does change when there is a week between games versus a few days. It is entirely possible that the training load was too much with that long between matches and now it will be unnoticeable. Which turns the conversation to the rest of the squad that has not been starting.
Lampard is a legend at the club who will demand the respect of the locker room and will be backed by the board regardless this season. And in these early days, it is hard to upset any player over lack of playing time. But lack of playing time will become an issue with the volume of games increasing and Lampard will know as well as most that the whole squad needs to be on board.
Obviously players need to earn their chances, but it will do Lampard no good to play Abraham every single match as Michy Batshuayi and Olivier Giroud burn holes through the bench. That can also extend to Pedro and Willian (and to a lesser extent, Christian Pulisic) who have seen their time cut with Mount playing on the wing.
In fact, Lampard’s best play for the Champions League and League Cup may be to rotate out the young guys for the more experienced players in the early stages. The young guys have been excelling in the Premier League but Champions League is a different beast as Lampard said in his presser. It may be best to introduce the likes of Tomori, Mount, and Abraham slowly to those demands while appeasing the older players with minutes.
Of course, Lampard will know all of this from his time as a player and has likely been thinking about it since he took the job. Even with a trusted spine at Derby, Lampard was able to keep the entire team happy throughout the season. Chelsea is another level up, but Lampard can be trusted to know how to rest and rotate for the cups. He will need to in order to keep Chelsea clicking along this season.