Tuesday 12 December 2017

Why Chelsea and Man United have the kindest Christmas schedule, but others will feel hard done by

The fixture list has been kind to Chelsea
The fixture list has been kind to Chelsea

Alistair Tweedale

While much of Europe winds down for Christmas, here in England we're only just getting started. After a week's break leading up to Boxing Day, Premier League sides face a gruelling schedule in which each team plays three times in a ten-day period to lay on a feast of festive football.

Many people believe the Premier League is long overdue the introduction of a winter break - the lack of one is widely considered to hinder the national team's chances at major tournaments - with managers often complaining that the workload placed on players these days is just too great.

The demands of the television companies only add to the problem: in that aforementioned run of ten days, there is only one day without some televised live Premier League football, with 11 of the 30 games shown by either Sky or BT.

The result is that some teams come off worse than others. It is impossible for the Premier League's schedulers to juggle the preferences of every club and their obligations to the companies that have paid such vast amounts of money in order to broadcast a certain number of matches, and for every team to come away content.

There is barely any time for rest over the coming weeks, and yet Chelsea have been afforded more rest in between their matches than any other Premier League side.

Between their first and second games of the festive period, Chelsea have four days off, and then they have another three days to rest between their second and third games. No other side has seven days' recovery time in between their matches, and 13 teams face two games in three days.

What is more, Chelsea's first two matches - against Bournemouth and Stoke - are on home soil and their third is just across the capital at Tottenham. Travelling is hardly difficult for footballers nowadays, but there remains the chance that the weather at this time of year can add to long journeys and impact on match preparation, and the likelihood of Chelsea's 14-mile trip to White Hart Lane being affected is slim, to say the least. The league leaders have to travel less than any other Premier League team over Christmas and New Year.

One could argue, though, that it is all Chelsea deserve after a tough recent run of games in which they twice had only two days' rest between wins over West Brom and Sunderland, and then last week before the Crystal Palace game. Having come through that packed schedule, Antonio Conte will be confident of extending his side's impressive recent winning streak with an advantage over his opponents.

Rather less happy with their schedules will be Southampton and Liverpool, who have been given just three and four days to recover, respectively. That is, Claude Puel's side have three games in the space of only six days, while Liverpool play three times in seven days.

Both teams have two home games before a lengthy trip away, with the final match of Liverpool's winter fixture list 167 miles away at the Stadium of Light, and that games comes after just one day of rest following a testing match away to Manchester City. Jurgen Klopp could not believe that his team will be forced to play twice in such quick succession, and he is going to have to rotate heavily to avoid adding to his squad's injury problems.

West Ham have to travel further than any other team over the coming weeks, with away trips to Swansea and Leicester, and then their home game is hardly the easiest, with in-form Manchester United coming to the London Stadium.

In terms of points gained by their three Christmas and new year opponents, United have the easiest fixture list, with matches against Sunderland, Middlesbrough and West Ham, who average just 17 points. Jose Mourinho's men have every chance of extending their already impressive eight-game unbeaten run.

Arsenal will be pleased with their festive fixtures, with West Brom, Crystal Palace and Bournemouth averaging fewer than 20 points, even if the prospect of just one day's rest before the trip to the Vitality Stadium is a tough one.

Stoke, Bournemouth and Tottenham have the hardest matches, with Mark Hughes's team travelling to Liverpool and Chelsea before hosting Watford.

Telegraph.co.uk

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