As some Real Madrid players begin to experience heavy legs from the mileage accumulated in 2020-21 to date, it is interesting to take a look at trends related to rotation and playing minutes over recent seasons. Despite the squad being healthier than has generally been the case in the last two years, Zidane has settled on a core of players since early December. This approach has pushed secondary players even further to the periphery.
After 23 games, there have been approximately 2,200 minutes played. The high points in the squad have gone up from previous seasons. There are currently two players (Courtois and Varane) that have totalled more time on the pitch than the player with the most minutes from the last four seasons. Overall, there has been less rotation this season to date.
We can somewhat quantify this by calculating the standard deviation. From the extensive look into Zidane’s impact on minutes distribution and general rotational policy back in 2018, the below provides a summary of what the standard deviation represents:
[It] calculates the average difference between each player’s minutes tally to the mean. It provides a good (albeit cursory) picture of how disparate the allocation of minutes has been. In theory, the more extreme or skewed the distribution (more players towards max and min), the higher the standard deviation.
We can see that over 23 games, Zidane has certainly rotated less this season. This comes as no surprise following news that the manager apparently met with key senior players who requested he maintain a more stable game-to-game line up to steady the ship after the tough start to the league and Champions League.
Finally, this becomes even more clear when reviewing a snapshot of playing time this season by player. There is a heavy concentration at the top while those further down the chart have been used somewhat sparingly.
In fact, as a quick test, we can calculate the percentage of minutes the top 11 players have played compared to the total available player minutes at the 23 game mark. The percentage for this season is 74% which is the highest of the last five (2019-20 - 71%; 2018-19 - 66%; 2017-18 - 66%; 2016-17 - 62%; 2015-16 - 67%). The lowest is the 2016-17 season when the club had arguably one of the deepest and most complete rosters in its history.
All in all, the club and Zidane made an intentional decision to rotate less which was vindicated results wise but it remains to be seen how sustainable this strategy is. Furthermore, the sample size considered is not overly significant (and doesn’t isolate injuries/suspensions) and it is possible that Real Madrid were already planning on increasing rotation as the season progresses and opportunities present themselves.