After looking at the forthcoming fixture schedules for the seven Premier League clubs involved in European competition this season, we now focus our thoughts on possible rotation.
This article takes a look back at how Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Unai Emery and Mauricio Pochettino approached the group stages of the UEFA Champions League and Europa League in 2018/19 to see if we can learn any lessons from their team selections.
This is uncharted territory for Nuno Espirito Santo and Frank Lampard at their respective clubs, of course, although Santo has experience of European competition with Porto and Valencia.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, meanwhile wasn’t ‘at the wheel’ for Manchester United’s Champions League group stage fixtures but did take charge of the Red Devils in the knockout round.
For this study, we will look at the period of Gameweeks 5 to 17.
The Champions League and Europe League group stages both started after Gameweek 5 of 2018/19, culminating before the games in Gameweek 17.
All bar one of the Gameweeks in question fell directly before and/or after a round of European fixtures, with the exception being Gameweek 15: that set of Premier League matches was the first ‘midweek’ round of league games of the season, however, so we’ll also include any findings in our results.
Manchester City – Pep Guardiola
Having won the Premier League in successive seasons, will Pep Guardiola’s focus be more on the elusive Champions League crown this year?
Fernandinho (£5.3m) was an ever-present in the league for City in Gameweeks 5-17 last season, highlighting just how important the Brazilain was to the cause – and the fact that the City boss had no like-for-like replacement for the veteran at the base of the midfield.
With Rodri‘s (£5.5m) capture, however, Guardiola has the capacity to rotate the two where he sees fit – although Fernandinho’s services may be needed on occasion at centre-half.
Despite featuring in all six Champions League group games from the start, Aymeric Laporte (£6.5m) started all but one league match during the time studied, with his rest coming in the midweek Premier League game in Gameweek 15.
Given his experience of playing as a left-sided centre-half, Nicolas Otamendi (£5.4m) may become the bedrock of the City defence in the league in Laporte’s stead – although the Frenchman, uncapped by his national side, had the benefit of recovering during international breaks in 2018/19, something Otamendi doesn’t have the luxury of.
The table above may say that Sergio Aguero (£12.1m) only started nine of the 13 league games in Gameweeks 5-17 but he was injured or recovering from injury in the final four of them.
Aguero only started two group matches in the Champions League and started every single league fixture from Gameweeks 5-13, although was substituted off in eight of those nine appearances.
Gabriel Jesus (£9.5m), by contrast, started four Champions League group fixtures and not a single league game between Gameweeks 5-13.
Raheem Sterling (£12.0m) started all six Champions League group fixtures and his FPL owners paid the price on three occasions, with benchings in Gameweeks 9 and 17 – both of those matches coming three days either before or after a European tie.
Sterling was also a substitute in the midweek Gameweek 15 fixture against Watford.
Only injury prevented Bernardo Silva (£7.8m) from being an ever-present in Gameweeks 5-17, illustrating just how important the Portugal international was to Guardiola last season.
Bernardo had his rests in the Champions League, sitting out three of City’s group games.
The mid-price FPL midfielder has already been benched twice in the league this season, however, suggesting he perhaps isn’t quite the ‘nailed’ option he was for much of 2018/19.
Given the options available to Guardiola in central midfield, we can likely expect plenty of rotation in the middle of the park this season.
David Silva (£7.4m), who turns 34 this campaign, is the obvious candidate for a semi-regular rest, with Ilkay Gundogan (£5.4m) and Phil Foden (£5.3m) waiting in the wings.
Silva had his minutes managed around the Champions League group games last season (of which he started five), being substituted in seven league fixtures and dropping to the bench on a further two occasions.
The anomaly here is Kevin De Bruyne (£9.8m), who was injured for a large chunk of last season and who didn’t make a league start in Gameweeks 5-17.
Looking back at 2017/18 instead, De Bruyne started City’s first 31 league games and started five of the Sky Blues’ Champions League group ties – although Guardiola will surely handle him more delicately this season following his injury problems of last year.
Liverpool – Jurgen Klopp
Having already tasted success in the Champions League, there is an argument to suggest that Jurgen Klopp’s focus will be more on the domestic front this year as Liverpool hunt for their first league title in 30 years.
Sadio Mane (£11.5m) and Mohamed Salah (£12.5m) started all six Champions League group stage matches last season and weren’t rested for any of the league fixtures around them.
The two league games that Mane missed altogether (Gameweeks 9 and 15) in the period studied were through injury, with a cut on his foot limiting his involvement to being a late substitute in the Gameweek 16 win over Bournemouth.
Salah’s only rest in the Premier League in the whole of 2018/19 came in that midweek Gameweek 15 win over Burnley.
Roberto Firmino (£9.5m) was benched in Gameweek 9 after returning late from international duty and, like Salah, was also handed a breather in Gameweek 15 as the Reds juggled three Premier League fixtures in seven days.
The Brazil striker was dropped to the bench in two of Liverpool’s six Champions League group games.
At the back, Virgil van Dijk (£6.5m) was an ever-present throughout this period and again looks the safest bet this season.
Having started all six Champions League group matches, Andrew Robertson (£6.9m) missed two Premier League fixtures in Gameweeks 5 to 17 – although one was enforced through injury.
Robertson was benched in the Gameweek 10 match against Cardiff, which came three days after a 90-minute run-out against Red Star.
Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.0m) was benched in Gameweeks 8 and 9 last season, with both matches coming four days either before or after the Liverpool right-back played 90 minutes in a Champions League group game.
Joe Gomez (£5.4m) deputised on both occasions.
Alexander-Arnold was also only a substitute for the Gameweek 16 win at Bournemouth, which was the third of three league matches that the Reds had to endure in the space of a week.
A foot injury ruled him out in Gameweek 17.
A start or two for Gomez at right-back in the coming months perhaps looks inevitable but Fantasy owners will be hoping that Klopp chooses the Champions League or Carabao Cup to hand Alexander-Arnold his feared breather.
Tottenham Hotspur – Mauricio Pochettino
The situation was pretty straightforward for Harry Kane (£11.0m) last season, with the Spurs striker starting all six Champions League group games and being benched only once.
That came in Gameweek 16, which was not only the third of three Premier League fixtures that Spurs faced in the space of seven days but also came three days before the Lilywhites took on Barcelona in a crucial Champions League tie.
The picture is not quite so clear with Spurs’ midfield assets.
Christian Eriksen (£8.8m) started only five league matches during Gameweeks 5 to 17 but was suffering from an abdominal problem in this period, with Mauricio Pochettino handling his recovery very carefully.
To illustrate this point, Eriksen started every single one of Spurs’ final 21 league fixtures once his issue had cleared up, also starting all seven of the north London club’s Champions League knockout ties.
Following his involvement at the 2018 World Cup and then the Asian Games in August/September, it took Son Heung-min (£9.5m) until Gameweek 13 to nail down a starting spot in Spurs’ team.
Managed minutes were an issue even when Son was established in the team and the South Korea international was substituted in all seven of his starts in the period studied, having made the starting XI in five of Spurs’ six Champions League group games.
With those two players, Erik Lamela (£6.0m) and the hamstrung Dele Alli (£8.4m) struggling for fitness or form, Lucas Moura (£7.4m) was the main beneficiary: the Brazilian started 11 of Spurs’ 13 fixtures around the Champions League group games.
Given that Lucas, Eriksen, Son and Lamela are already up and running this season and the likes of Alli and Giovani Lo Celso (£7.4m) are gradually building their fitness through substitute appearances, rotation in the Spurs midfield will surely be a minefield around their forthcoming Champions League ties.
Pochettino has been a regular rotator of his full-backs in busy periods so we can likely expect to see more of the same this time around, with Toby Alderweireld (£5.5m) perhaps the most secure route into the Spurs backline – the Belgian defender started all but one of the 13 Premier League games around the Champions League group stage fixtures last season.
Arsenal – Unai Emery
Unai Emery used the Europa League group stages to mostly blood his second string, with stronger starting XIs not named until the knockout stage had commenced in February.
Emery made at least eight line-up changes in five of the six group games as fringe players were given a chance to impress, so fatigue-led rotation in the Premier League wasn’t the issue that it might have been had the Gunners been in the Champions League.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£11.0m) made only two starts in the Europa League group stage, with Alexandre Lacazette (£9.4m) making just the one.
Emery is a tinkerer of teams regardless of European involvement, however, as the above table shows.
It should be said that Aubameyang was about as ‘nailed’ as they come until Arsenal started to venture deep into the Europa League: the Gabon international started 23 of Arsenal’s first 25 league fixtures in 2018/19, with benchings in Gameweeks 8 and 9 seemingly less about preservation for Europe and more to do with Emery’s constantly evolving tactical preferences.
Lacazette started eight matches in a row between Gameweeks 5 and 12 but was less of a reliable starter through December as Emery favoured Aubameyang up top by himself – again, though, this had little to do with the Europa League.
Manchester United, Chelsea and Wolves – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Frank Lampard and Nuno Espirito Santo
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has taken charge of Manchester United in four Champions League knockout games and has shown previous when it comes to Europe-led rotation, resting Marcus Rashford (£8.5m) and Victor Lindelof (£5.5m) in Gameweeks 26 and 34 ahead of the PSG and Barcelona ties.
How Solskjaer will treat the ‘lesser’ Europa League, and the bloated group stage in particular, remains to be seen, however.
Nuno Espirito Santo is certainly giving the competition plenty of respect.
Leander Dendoncker (£4.5m), Diogo Jota (£6.4m), Jonny (£5.5m) and Joao Moutinho (£5.5m) have all been benched following Europa League play-off fixtures already and the settled Wolves side we could trust from a Fantasy perspective in 2018/19 looks anything but this season.
Frank Lampard is the great unknown as he gets set to manage in Europe for the first time (with the exception of the Super Cup) but Chelsea’s wealth of options in most positions should provide him with ample opportunity to rotate.
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