One of the best football teams I ever saw never won a major trophy. We all know that Real Madrid won four Champions League titles in five years, but what is not often talked about is that the team that didn’t bring home the big eared trophy was probably better than at least two of the teams that did. In 2014-2015 Los Blancos won 22 straight games.
It was incredible. The quality of football they played and the tactics Carlo Ancelotti put into the midfield (gaining plenty of defensive coverage without a true defensive midfielder) was absolutely outstanding.
Then January hit and the wheels came off. The beginning of the end actually came in mid November when Luka Modric injured his hamstring, but James Rodriquez, Pepe, Gareth Bale (shock), Sergio Ramos, and Karim Benzema all missed significant time as well. Injuries happen over the course of the year, but in particular these injuries happened because Carlo Ancelotti refused to rotate.
Twelve players featured for over 2,000 La Liga minutes that season, and only 15 played over 1,000 minutes. For context, the next season under Rafa Benitez and Zinedine Zidane 18 players played over 1,000 minutes and only seven played more than 2,000. The season after that, when Real Madrid won a double? Seven players break the 2,000 mark, and twenty total players logged at least 1,000 league minutes. Using very similar squads to what Ancelotti had in his last season, his successors rotated far, far more.
The issue has existed at other clubs managed by Ancelotti as well. In his first season at Chelsea nine players broke 2,000 league minutes, and only six more broke 1,000 minutes. His last season at PSG? Nine players over 2,000 league minutes and only six more with over 1,000. At Bayern Munich, where they only play 34 games, he still managed to put eight players over 2,000 minutes and eight more over 1,000. Nine of the sixteen players who played at least 1,000 at Napoli broke the 2,000 barrier.
This has become a trend for Ancelotti, and one that has complicated his stays at multiple clubs over his career. If Everton is going to start to climb the ranks of European football, he has to be different here.
In four games in charge over the space of only eleven days, Carlo barely rotated his side at all. Only 17 players got minutes during that span and Mason Holgate, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, and for all practical purposes Richarlison played the entirety of all four matches.
This isn’t sustainable. Now that we are down to one competition it should be less of a problem over the course of this season but if Carlo Ancelotti is going to succeed long term at Everton he is going to have to figure out that he can’t just play the same people all the time. One wonders how the second half against Liverpool would have looked if we had played a heavily rotated side against Manchester City (a game we lost anyway) and had fresher players to try to get us a win we so desperately needed.
Carlo has won trophies at previous clubs without enough rotation but he was dealing with a different sort of talent base than he has here. PSG or Bayern players might be able to run on cruise control and win league matches, but our talent isn’t there yet.
For the curious, Marco Silva basically used zero rotation last year. Ten players played 2,000 minutes, only four more broke the 1,000 minute barrier. That was a season with no significant cup runs and no European competition. Presumably the entire point of hiring Ancelotti is that we’ll be playing a higher number of games in coming seasons.
I’m all in on Carlo as Everton manager. I think he’s fantastic tactically, and I think he’ll attract top level talent to our club. But he is going to have to learn to trust his squad more if we are going to handle the grind English football throws at teams year after year.