Reading's play-off rivals Huddersfield Town hit the headlines over the weekend, as their starting line-up to face Birmingham City saw 10 changes from the team that had faced Wolves four days earlier and confirmed a top six spot.
The Terriers went on to lose 2-0 to Harry Redknapp's side (who also had a man sent off), a result which not only helped Reading move up to third, but also saw Birmingham claim a crucial three points in their fight for survival. The Blues moved above Nottingham Forest to sit two points above 22nd place Blackburn Rovers, taking the relegation scrap right down to the final day. The managers of those two sides, Mark Warburton and Tony Mowbray, weren't happy with the way Huddersfield had approached the game, claiming that the changes brought "the integrity of the game" into question.
Freedom of choice
That suggestion seems slightly unfounded to me, and any subsequent penalty that Huddersfield face would be incredibly harsh. Any manager should have the freedom to pick whatever side he wants, especially a manager who has taken his club to within touching distance of top flight football for the first time in 45 years. The desire to rest key players ahead of the biggest games in the club's recent history is completely understandable given how easy it is now to pick up an injury. As much as we might want to see Aaron Mooy or Nahki Wells out for the season, from David Wagner's perspective it makes sense to ensure that his best assets are fit and ready for the play-offs. That is exactly why managers aim for large, strong squads to allow them flexibility throughout the season.
It seems baffling to me how managers of sides fighting to avoid relegation can call into question the tactical decisions of a manager sitting third in the table before kick-off. Admittedly, Mowbray has only been at Blackburn for 14 games and Warburton at Forest for 8, but they still only have win percentages of 29% and 25% respectively, compared to Wagner's 45% win ratio in over 80 games in charge of Huddersfield. They should be worrying about their own team selections first and foremost as clearly right now they're not doing much right.
Then comes the argument about how much 'weaker' this Huddersfield starting XI was. Chelsea loannee Izzy Brown or top scorer Elias Kachunga may not have even made the bench, but there was still quality in the side. Collin Quaner had two goals in his previous four appearances, Philip Billing was growing into the holding midfield role, whilst Tommy Smith has four goals and 10 assists this campaign from right-back. Only one outfield player selected had made fewer than 10 appearances for the Terriers this season - Tareiq Holmes-Dennis, who has made nine. There's then the stone cold fact that all 11 of those players were registered with the EFL this season, so there should be nothing to stop any one of them playing at any time.
Context of the game
It certainly isn't a side that was changed as much as the Reading team that faced Watford in 2015 two days before the FA Cup quarter-final replay against Bradford City. Steve Clarke made nine changes from the previous match and handed first league starts to four players and a debut off the bench to one more as the Royals got smashed 4-1.
But there were few complaints about those changes. Why? The context of the game. Watford were expected to win as they sat third so were fighting for promotion rather than relegation. The game mattered very little if you took a look at the bigger picture.
If Huddersfield had pitted that team against Forest or Blackburn, I doubt their respective managers would be complaining. If Birmingham were sat in mid-table and the game meant nothing then no one would bat an eyelid. If the Terriers had won the game at St. Andrew's there would be no cause for complaint. If Wagner had made those changes in a game mid-way through the season, no one would be talking about consequences. You might suggest that these are all 'ifs' and 'maybes', but why have a different set of rules a manager should follow in different scenarios? I'm sure David Wagner didn't even consider the opponent when deciding to make the changes, and would have done the same if Huddersfield were playing any other team in the division. Mowbray, Warburton and others criticising the former Dortmund no.2's decision aren't complaining about the principle of making 10 changes, they're complaining about the result.
It brings about the question of whether you would be happy to see Jaap Stam make changes for the trip to Burton on Saturday with a place in the play-offs now secured. Personally, I would have no issue if he did, and think it would probably be beneficial if he did give 35-year-old Yann Kermorgant a rest and bring Joseph Mendes back in. Chris Gunter has started every single league game this season, so it might be a good idea to make sure he is fully prepared for the play-offs. The same can be said for Liam Moore, who has barely missed a game recently. Injuries to any key players could severely damage our chances in 'the lottery'.
What do you make of David Wagner's 10 changes against Birmingham? Would you be happy if Jaap Stam did the same on Sunday? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and on Twitter.