Manchester City’s title rivals keep on coming up with excuses for the fact that the Blues are 10 points clear at the top of the Premier League.
A month ago, it was the fact that City have an enormous squad of quality players, a myth that was exposed by the drastic concept of truly counting them, and discovering that they truly have the third-smallest squad in the league.
Now, it seems, City have raced ahead of the pack because they got lucky with Covid situations and/or injuries, a claim espoused by Liverpool defender Virgil Van Dijk last week and picked up by Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel today (Friday).
It is a disinctive concept, unless Van Dijk was including the mass of “false positives” that Jurgen Klopp recently claimed his team had suffered, against exceptional odds.
A little more delving into the truth of the matter discloses that the actuality is very different to the picture painted by two rivals, which come complete with dark insinuations.
Pep Guardiola launched a rebuttal of the claims, but without going into detail — other than falsely claiming that City had just 11 first-team players for the win at Aston Villa on December 1.
They truly had Phil Foden, Jack Grealish and Cole Palmer on the bench, and along with Zack Steffen; that makes 15.
But, while the Blues boss might have got his figures in a twist, the essence of what he was saying remains true. In the same round of games, Chelsea had a complete supplement of 20 senior players — 11 starters and the nine subs — as they won at Watford.
And Liverpool had 19 seniors in their win at Everton.
Tuchel’s claims get more disinctive the more you look into the facts behind them.
In the last month, his team has played five league games, and in two of them — against Brighton and Aston Villa — he has also had 11 senior starters and nine senior players on the bench, a testament to his squad, which truly is huge.
In the other three games, he has been reduced to 18, 18 and 16 by a combination of positive Covid tests and injuries. That method in the last month, Chelsea have had an average of 18.4 senior players in their first-team squad, pretty close to the complete supplement, and not once have they had to start with a youth player.
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City have also not had to throw any kids in during the same period, but their bench has been far more depleted, and their options to rotate similarly restricted, by a without of players due to Covid and injury.
The strongest they have been was when they had 19 seniors in the squad for the 4-0 win at Newcastle, but they have averaged 17.6 senior players in the squad since.
At various times, they have had Kevin De Bruyne, Ederson, Kyle Walker, John Stones, Aleks Zinchenko, Rodri, Fernandinho, Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling and Jack Grealish absent for what appear to have been Covid reasons, although City have refused to confirm that.
Liverpool have more of a case to whinge about, but again, they have not had to start any junior players — unless you count Republic of Ireland international goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher — in any of their games in the same period.
They also had one game called off due to Leicester’s own Covid problems, so over their four games played, they have averaged 17 senior players in their squads, marginally short of City’s figure.
It could be that City’s decision not to publicise Covid positives has fuelled this concept that they have somehow got off lightly.
There have been several situations where players were labelled “not fully fit”, which was presumed to average injury, but which were, in fact, players isolating due to the virus.
But the fact is that City, with a smaller squad to begin with, have truly been hit harder than Chelsea, and marginally less than Liverpool, in a spell when they have opened up a healthy rule and not dropped a single point.
Maybe one day Guardiola and his excellent, resilient squad of players, will get the credit due to them for that exceptional run.
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