In the hours after Chelsea's 1-1 draw at Brighton & Hove Albion on Tuesday, supporters at rival Premier League clubs would have been able to put together the world's biggest orchestra given the amount of violins that would have appeared when Thomas Tuchel claimed that his Blues squad "needed some days off".
They would have required no further encouragement to deduce that the German - an open book when it comes to the media - had craved sympathy for his players' perceived predicament on the back of a punishing schedule when it was not necessarily due. After all, Tuchel took the decision to only make three changes to his starting lineup for the game at the Amex Stadium.
Nevertheless, the derision that followed Tuchel's comments was an example of how football players are dehumanised based on the club that they represent and their own personal valuation. When you make a direct comparison to how non-league players have to juggle two jobs and play Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday on a regular basis, there is no argument, but this is elite sport, and the comparisons should only be made against teams and players of the same standing. A player's ability, wage or price-tag does not determine how much fuel they have in the tank over the short and long term, and the numbers highlight why Tuchel is completely correct with his opinion that Chelsea are running on empty.
Here, Sports Mole delves into the numbers which show the extent of Chelsea's exertions since they played the UEFA Super Cup final on August 11.
HAVE CHELSEA PLAYED THE MOST MATCHES?
Even with over four months still remaining in the season, Chelsea have already accumulated 36 matches in all competitions. Unexpectedly, the West Londoners have played the most fixtures in the Premier League - five more than top-four rivals Tottenham Hotspur and six more than Burnley.
In comparison to some of their rivals, Chelsea have played four more games in all competitions than each of Manchester City and Liverpool, while West Ham United have also reached the 32-game mark due to their participation in the Europa League. Manchester United are eight encounters behind on 28.
Chelsea have reached such a total by already playing five times in the EFL Cup, but that should not detract from the fact that they have been presented with more top-flight fixtures than anyone else.
RECOVERY TIME BETWEEN MATCHES?
Just 160 days have passed since Chelsea defeated Villarreal in the UEFA Super Cup after extra time and penalties, and it has left the Blues with an average of playing a match every 4.44 days. When taking into consideration that three international breaks have also occurred during that period, it is an astonishing ratio.
Earlier this week, Tuchel made light of Chelsea being forced to play three matches within a week - all of which were played away from Stamford Bridge. Only the Premier League know why Tuesday's meeting with the Seagulls could not have been pushed back 24 hours, but such an occurrence has become a familiar feature of Chelsea's schedule this season. They have now played three matches in the same timeframe on six occasions since September 19.
It should be noted that the circumstances in many of the previous five instances were far more favourable. All but one of the triple-headers in question involved games in London and minimal travelling, the only exception being when Chelsea had to travel to the West Midlands to face Wolverhampton Wanderers during the middle of a stint just before Christmas.
In terms of Chelsea's schedule since the last international break, they have played 18 games in just 58 days - an average of 3.22 days per game. No-one else comes close.
HOW MUCH TRAVELLING?
Chelsea were given trips to Italy, Sweden and Russia during the Champions League group stages, the longest of those journeys coming immediately before a Premier League fixture with Leeds United three days later.
Compared with the other teams competing in European football's premier competition, Chelsea did considerably more travelling. Leicester City, who had visits to Russia and Poland in the Europa League, can also claim to have covered similar air miles to the Blues.
Coronavirus - as we will document later - has played its part, but Chelsea have already made 12 away trips in the Premier League this season, more than any other team. By comparison, London rivals Tottenham Hotspur have only played eight times away from home in the top flight.
However, Chelsea and Tuchel can have no complaints about the domestic cups. Each of their five EFL Cup ties have been played in London - two coming at neighbours Brentford and Spurs - and they were given a Stamford Bridge fixture against non-league Chesterfield in the FA Cup, one which will be followed by a home meeting with Plymouth Argyle early next month.
Given how fast Omicron spread through the population throughout December and continues to do so now, it has been somewhat remarkable that Chelsea have come through that period without a coronavirus-related postponement.
They dealt with several positive cases before the Everton fixture on December 16, and were denied a postponement when as many as seven players were affected ahead of the Wolves game three days later. Chelsea were also contending with multiple injuries at that time, and the game was only played through possessing a bigger squad than the majority of other teams. They can argue with substantial justification that they were penalised because of their wealth and transfer activity in the past, particularly now that numerous teams have had games cancelled for less severe outbreaks.
Manchester City have not had a break either, but three fewer EFL Cup ties due to their early exit has given them time for recuperation. Liverpool have had two - one in the Premier League and one in the EFL Cup - while Arsenal and Spurs have had three postponements each over the past six weeks.
Whichever way you look at it, Chelsea have a huge squad even when dealing with injuries and coronavirus cases. Of their current group, 24 players have been given minutes in the Premier League this season, and they are also blessed with several talented youngsters who are on the cusp of making the transition to senior football.
Chelsea have played 3,270 minutes of football this season, an extra 30 minutes coming from the UEFA Super Cup. Antonio Rudiger is the clear leader when it comes to minutes for outfield players, the German defender featuring for 2,730 minutes and being 595 minutes clear than any other player. Rudiger deserves credit for his fitness levels, but his activity is position dependent, the 28-year-old occupying a role in the back three.
Mason Mount has played the same amount of games as Rudiger - the pair featuring in 30 of Chelsea's 36 matches - but there is an 815-minute difference in their game time. As many as 18 outfield squad members have played over 1,000 minutes in all competitions, 19 when you include goalkeeper Edouard Mendy.
More than just minutes on the pitch should be taken into consideration. Eleven of Chelsea's players have featured in 31 squads. Only three Man City and Liverpool players - Ruben Dias, Kostas Tsimikas and Ibrahima Konate - can claim to have featured with the same regularity.
While goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga has only made 10 appearances in all competitions this season, he has appeared in all 36 matchday squads.
WHAT COULD TUCHEL HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY?
In the short term, Tuchel could have certainly made more alterations for the Brighton game. There was scope for five or six players to return. However, a contrasting argument is that very few Chelsea supporters would have selected Hakim Ziyech in their starting XI, yet he scored their goal against the Seagulls.
On reflection, Tuchel may feel that he made his point at the wrong moment, but it was not an opinion that should be lazily ridiculed, nor one that should question a lack of squad rotation.
Only one outfield player - Rudiger - has started at least 17 of Chelsea's 23 Premier League matches. Only three players (Arrizabalaga, Malang Sarr and Saul Niguez) have started at least four of the club's five ties in the EFL Cup. Not a single player started all six of Chelsea's Champions League group games, the most active being Cesar Azpilicueta with five starts and one substitute outing.
There is not a single club in England that has not had to deal with some kind of adversity this season, whether that be related to injuries or coronavirus. Chelsea are also better equipped than most to handle such situations, but that is not to say that Tuchel's words regarding fatigue should be spun negatively to create headlines. The numbers prove that he is right, and Chelsea will have earned their week off later this month before they resume with matches in the FA Cup and Club World Cup.
body check tags ::