Saturday 17 March 2018

Di Matteo's fixture plans grounded

Chelsea boss hits out at Premier League's refusal to help club, writes Jason Burt

Chelsea have reacted angrily to the Premier League's refusal to postpone a match at Sunderland less than 24 hours before they are due to fly to Japan for the forthcoming Club World Cup.

Manager Roberto di Matteo said that "as usual" the Premier League had refused to help Chelsea and added that the schedule would put "a strain" on his players.

Chelsea face Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on December 8 which, with flights and changing time zones, gives them only three days to prepare for their first match in the Fifa tournament in Yokohama on December 13.

"We've tried to postpone the Sunderland game to give us the best chance -- but the Premier League didn't agree to it, as usual," Di Matteo said. "So that is going to put a strain on the players because we are only going to be able to travel after that match and arrive three days before our first game in Japan.

"You would think the Premier League would have every interest in making sure they give you the best chance to be successful in Japan -- which would reflect very, very well on English football and the Premier League. I'm very surprised about it. I can't get my head around it."

Manchester United, the only English team ever to lift the trophy, faced a similar problem when they played in the inaugural Club World Cup in Brazil in 2000; opting to pull out of the FA Cup to create space in the calendar.

That is a move which Di Matteo has ruled out; but he remains frustrated that more is not being done to help his side who are tipped to face Brazilian club Corinthians in the final on December 16.

"The important thing for us would have been to go there a few days before so the players have enough time to adjust to the new time zone," Di Matteo said. "I don't understand it. This is one of the biggest trophies in international club football; if not the biggest."

Meanwhile, Juan Mata has pledged to help ensure that Di Matteo avoids the curse of November, which has hit previous Chelsea managers.

For three of the last four campaigns an indifferent run of games has been the beginning of the end and led to a departure -- first Luiz Felipe Scolari, then Carlo Ancelotti and, last year, Andre Villas-Boas.

"I think this is going to be a good month, we want to change that it hasn't been like that in recent years," Mata said ahead of today's Premier League encounter against Liverpool who, this time last year, defeated Chelsea as events started to turn against the manager who brought the Spanish international to the club.

Villas-Boas' November record at Chelsea read: P6, W2, L3, D1. For Ancelotti (in his second, trophy-less season) it was: P8, W3, L4, D1, and for Scolari the statistics were: P7, W3, L2, D2. Hardly disastrous but a huge shift in form, for each manager, given what had happened at the start of each of those seasons.

Mata also paid tribute to Chelsea's switch in style, suggesting he had found the defensive approach that won them the Champions League a frustration.

"It's the best way to win," he said of Chelsea's new attacking approach. "For all the team it's very good to play like this and it's my preferred way to play? I think this is the best form I have ever been in. It's been a very good season for me."


Chelsea v Liverpool,

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