[I’m sorta just throwing darts at a dart board here, so feel free to slate my hypothesis in the comments]
An old axiom in football is that a settled lineup often brings good results. So below is an image I assumbled using data from Football-Lineups.com that show the changes in the starting lineup since the prior game.
Note I tried to show data from other season’s past, but last year’s constant changes as we advanced further into Europe, and 2008-09‘s lack of any changes made it a little difficult. I did however calculate a the averages that I will get to later.
I divided the season into thirds for no reason other than to make the data easier to break down. Therefore I had to excluded the opening day game against Bolton, as it counts as zero (what’s the math term for that?).
For both the first and second ‘third’ of this season, Hughes averaged two changes to the starting lineup between each game. A lot of that stems from the revolving door of physical and mental injuries, particularly at the back, and Hughes tinkering with what what works and what doesn’t.
In the last ‘third’, he made 1.125 changes to the lineup. It’s probably no coincidence that we’ve seen an uptick in results with the lack of changes either made or forced. Additionally, had Schwarzer not gone to Qatar for the AFC — boy, we sure dropped the ball in covering that didn’t we? — that number would drop to be a hypothetical .875.
So on average, he’s made just about 2 changes between each week (or, 1.708 to be exact). And after 25 games we currently sit 12th.
In comparison, through the first 25 matches of last season, Roy made on average: 2 changes in the first ‘third’, 1.375 in the second, .9 in the last ‘third’. If we average the averages, Roy made just over 1 (1.125 to be exact) change in the lineup between each game. (Had I added in the number of changes made in the latter part of the season, that number could have easily skyrocketed to 7 or 8.) After 25 games Fulham sat 10th.
In 2008-09, where we achieved our highest finish ever, through the first 25 matches Roy made on average: 0.625; 0.25; 1.25, or about just under (.708) one change between each match. After 25 games Fulham sat 8th.
The 2007-08 season get’s a little crazy. The averages are as follows: 1.375; 2.875; 2.875. Note the final third number comes after Sanchez was sacked, so naturally the number would be higher. Or, just over 2 changes (2.375) between each week. And after 25 games, Fulham sat 19th.
So is there a direct, mathematical correlation to the amount of starting lineup changes (i.e., no more than 1) and league position? I’m not too sure, but it’s something an actual mathematician or statistician could prove.
But 2008-09 proves that it sure is helpful.