Chelsea 'holidays' raises fears for Man United's top four finish
Jose Mourinho's decision to grant his players extra time off after clinching the title could have major implications on top four race
Jose Mourinho has taken the unusual step of allowing his Chelsea players up to four days off this week, prompting raised eyebrows at Manchester United over the new Premier League champions’ preparations for Liverpool on Sunday.
After clinching the title with their 1-0 win against Crystal Palace last Sunday, Mourinho gave his players Monday and Tuesday as what would be their expected days off but also rewarded them with the option of taking off both Wednesday and Thursday.
Friday will be the first day that the squad has been required to report for training all week, leaving Mourinho only two definite full days to prepare with his players for the visit on Sunday of Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool.
Eden Hazard certainly appears to have been among those to take up the chance for some added relaxation and posted a photograph on his Instagram account on Wednesday of him looking out over a swimming pool and beach.
Sunday's fixture is hugely important in what now looks like a straight battle between Liverpool and Manchester United for the fourth and final Champions League place. Qualifying for the Champions League is typically worth around £30 million and will also be crucial in attracting potential signings over the next year.
Liverpool have closed the gap to Manchester United to only four points ahead of the final three matches of the season following a sequence of three straight defeats for Louis van Gaal’s team. United also still face a potentially hazardous run-in with away matches looming against Crystal Palace on Saturday and then Hull City on the final day of the season either side of hosting Arsenal.
Chelsea have been dominant against Liverpool at Stamford Bridge under Mourinho but, with the title already secure, United fans will be concerned that his team might not be as meticulously prepared as usual. The performance and team selection will certainly now come under added scrutiny.
Mourinho is sure to completely refute any suggestion that he would allow his players, even subconsciously, not to be fully motivated and prepared for any game. He simply believed that the players had deserved the chance of some extra time off after a pressurised season that has ended with a first Premier League title in five years as well as the Capital One Cup.
Mourinho is expected also to argue that, by giving the players a brief space to celebrate and unwind, his decision will actually help ensure that they are fully focused for the final three games.
Mourinho himself has been back working at the club’s Cobham training base since Wednesday in preparation for the Liverpool game. Chelsea also still have to play West Bromwich Albion and Sunderland.
West Brom are virtually safe but Sunderland remain embroiled in the relegation battle. Mourinho knows that his decisions over these next three weeks will be closely monitored by other clubs but Diego Costa is not expected to be rushed back from injury.
After ending the season at home to Sunderland, Chelsea will also now travel to Thailand as well as Australia as part of a two-match post-season celebratory tour. They will return to Bangkok's Rajamangala Stadium, the venue for Mourinho's first match of his second spell with Chelsea in July 2013, for a fixture against Thailand All-Stars on May 30.
Chelsea will also play Sydney FC in the ANZ Stadium on June 2. "Our visits to Asia are always memorable, and I know the team will be well received by our tremendous supporters in Thailand,” said Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck.
"I am sure Jose and the team will deliver a performance to entertain as we celebrate what has been such an excellent season." Chelsea, who won the Capital One Cup in March, also play in the International Champions Cup in North America in July as part of preparations for the 2015-16 season. They will then face either Arsenal or Aston Villa in the Community Shield on August 9.