Looking at plus/minus data for a couple of Chelsea's more versatile players, as well as key defensive and midfield partnerships.
Building from yesterday's overview, let's look a little bit closer, on a bit of a smaller scale. I'm not going to go through every player individually, that data can pretty much already be found in Part I's big overview eye-chart.
Pick your cliched intro sentence: Start from the top | Build from the back. Oh, also, short-handed goals scored/conceded do not count. Mostly because trying to assign positions with just 9-10 men playing can be a hassle, at best.
Ivanovic is the team leader in both minutes played (2845) and plus-minus rating (+36). He has been on the pitch for 72 of Chelsea's total of 88 scored and 36 of Chelsea's total of 48 conceded. That's just about 80%, if you're wondering, and that's not very interesting.
What is interesting is that Ivanovic can play both centrally and at right back, his assignment often depending on just who's in charge. Andre Villas-Boas split Bane's time about equally. Di Matteo clearly preferred him as a right back, while lately, through a combination of injuries and various sideshows, he's become the first choice DC.
And Branislav Ivanovic is still a better right back! At least when it comes to raw goal differential averaged out to 90-minute increments. The bane of Bane, unfortunately, is that he's not necessarily the best option at right back. He's probably used to this lot in his Chelsea life by now, but still.
Having seen off the likes of Paulo Ferreira, Jose Bosingwa, Juliano Belletti, and even Michael Essien, it's now little Cesar Azpilicueta who's in his way. That's the Cesar Azpilicueta who has amassed a +25 in just 1662 minutes at right back (+1.35/90min), which blows Ivanovic's +1.01/90min out of the water. As always, there's selection and strength-of-opponent bias inherent in these numbers, so it would be premature to make any final declarations just yet as to which right back is definitely first choice...but it's certainly something to take into consideration - and that's before any sort of ageism could even begin to take place!
I apologize in advance for the formatting shift on the following data table. I just grabbed last year's to start with, and wasn't feeling motivated enough to create a coherent design language with this year's. You see what happens when you have no "stability," Chelsea, do you see what happens?!
Anyway, if right back is not Ivanovic's true home, maybe center back is where he belongs despite his lower individual plus-minus rating there.
Or not. Or maybe yes? (Green means better than Chelsea season average, red means worse - the averages being 2.36 goals scored vs. 1.29 conceded.)
Further inconclusivities! I don't think that's a word. That being said, and with an even healthier "small samples" warning than usual, the David Luiz - Ivanovic combination could make a decent claim as Chelsea's current best. This is a RAFALUTION special and it has kept a CLEAN SHEET against the likes of Manchester City, Stoke City, and Fulham. The one goal that it did concede was to Leeds United in the League Cup.
Skipping over Ryan Bertrand and his duality of left back / left wing (Chelsea have yet to lose when Bertrand plays left wing, by the way), let's check in on engine room and see how Ramires is doing. Gotta keep the motor runnin'!
Well, the only thing clear from this is that while he looks better in a double pivot, Ramires's best position remains as the runner in a midfield three. But since the 4-3-3 has been declared unconstitutional, the team has to keep trying to fit him in sub-optimally. His versatility and energy keeps him a valuable asset, however, as he proved it with his showing on the wing at Goodison Park.
More Mikel weirdness? More Mikel weirdness:
NB: This table was originally published with Mikel-Ramires at 0 goal difference (15:15). This has now been corrected to +1 (16:15).
These are just the top 5 by total minutes played out of the 14 total permutations. With Oscar's time in the double pivot mostly split between Ramires & Lampard as his partners, he doesn't quite make the chart.
I think we'd all be feeling a lot better about the Lampard - Ramires combination had Wednesday not happened. As it stands, probably none of these is that great of a choice and won't win games by itself - a crappy situation, to be sure, but one that could be attenuated by some smart in-game management, right?