Blue Evolution: A Look at Four Years in the Wilderness

Updated: November 11, 2014

As punishment for their sins, the early Israelites were forced to wander the wilderness for forty years. The unbelieving elders perished, and the young generation took over the land that was promised.

Four years ago, Chelsea were in the promised land. Having just secured the Premier League title and broken the goalscoring record to boot, they began the next season with two 6-0 victories (and making sure that poor Wigan didn’t think the 8-0 victory the season before was a fluke). Unfortunately, four out of a possible fifteen league points in November sent Chelsea on a spiral that ended with Chelsea in fifth place; though they eventually fought back to second the 71 points they earned signaled far greater trouble.

Carlo was fired, and young, brash, Portuguese hotshot (sound familiar?) AVB was brought in; he lasted until March. One di Matteo took over, finished in sixth, but gave Chelsea a glimpse of the Promised Land that had for so long been desired. Surely, we thought, our year of wandering was over.

Cue 2012-13. This was, perhaps, the nadir of Chelsea’s aimless ramblings in the wild. Knocked out of the Champions League, di Matteo was forced to leave. His replacement was one of the most reviled opponents Chelsea had come against, and he brought Europa League glory; even for a wilderness wandering group, it was hard to enjoy.

Then Mourinho was brought in to lead us out. In some ways, he was both Joshua and Moses. And yet, his first season was filled with as much false-hope and half-victory as any season previously. The wilderness wandering continued.

29 points after 11 games. There’s not a single team in the top five European leagues (England, France, Germany, Spain, Italy) that can match that output. Not Pep’s Bayern. Not La Liga’s Real Madrid. Chelsea are outpacing every wonder team around, and it’s possible that they’ve already had their bad patch of form (though there could be more).

It certainly seems like we’re back in the Promised Land. The Israelites were forced to wander because some among them feared they couldn’t conquer their enemies. They were too big, too strong, too mighty. Some might have said the same for us: our enemies are too strong, too deep, too attacking, too ruthless.

I’ll tell you, though, the Promised Land seems nice.

The Journey

Of course, it wasn’t easy. Getting here required a team evolution from the last Chelsea group of champions. I’ve attempted to visualize how our team has changed in the last few years. I’ve got the minutes played by every player from 2009-present day, and have broken those players into nodes by the minutes where they first accrued minutes (players who played first in 2009-10 are in Node 1, players who first played in 2010-11 are in Node 2, etc.). Note, however, that I have Drogba in Node 1 even after we re-acquired him (as I believe he is most classified as the Old Guard), but that I have Matic in Node 5 (2013-14) even though he first played minutes in Node 1. Somehow I don’t think his 70 minutes in the first season qualify him as Node 1.

Also, I’ve stripped out players who accrued less than 200 total minutes with the club.

Notice how the team has changed over time; the 2009-10 team is basically the same as the 2010-11 team (with a shuffle among players within the group, but not necessarily among the new players). 2011-12 is the first transition team (AVB), and 2012-13 is a strange hybrid. Jose comes in in 2013-14 and reinstates some of the Node 1 guys (notice the barely perceptible increase seen in the bottom figure), while decreasing Node 4’s influence slightly. At this point, Nodes 2 and 3 are basically just Cahill, Ramires, and Juan Mata.

It takes until 2014-15 for Node 1 to not be the biggest contributor to minutes played. But it looks like the wandering is over.


Author’s note: Data courtesy Transfermarkt

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