Football

Conte: Rivals are jealous of us

Chelsea boss says their title rivals complain about the fixture list only because the Blues are top

Antonio Conte has waded into the Premier League realm of mind games.

Critics have suggested that his side had an unfair advantage during the hectic festive season schedule.

But the Italian, who has taken to life in England like a duck to water, hit back and said that they are merely jealous of Chelsea's position at the Premier League summit.

Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho, who was sacked from his second spell at Chelsea last season, said his old team and Tottenham Hotspur had been given festive fixture "privilege" when their London Derby was scheduled to take place this morning (Singapore time).

It ensured the Blues, seeking a record-setting 14th successive league win, had an additional day between games. The schedule also irked Liverpool boss Juergen Klopp.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger also blamed the fixture list for his team's 3-3 draw at Bournemouth yesterday morning.

But Conte, whose side went into this morning's clash with Tottenham at White Hart Lane on the back of 13 straight league victories, retorted that it wasn't the schedule that their rivals are furious with.

FIXTURE FURORE

Ahead of the Spurs match, he said: "I can reply that I didn't do the fixtures. I think that now they are angry for our position not for the fixtures.

"It's normal. This also happens in Italy. I repeat it's always because you stay up (at the top).

"Every team want to stop our run, not only Tottenham.

"Don't worry about this, about the other teams, about the fans. Not one person wants to kill the championship."

All Premier League clubs played three matches during the festive period.

Chelsea have had 223 hours - the most among all the top-tier sides - spanning those three games.

It gives them more recovery time than the likes of Arsenal (198.75 hours), Man United (172.25) and Liverpool (143.75), while Southampton, on the other end of the extreme, have had just 117 hours to play three matches.

Wenger feels that his side got the short end of the stick, after seeing his team play out a lacklustre opening 60 minutes before fighting back to draw with Bournemouth, who had an extra day's rest.

The Cherries powered into a 3-0 lead, thanks to goals from Charlie Daniels, Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser, only to slip off the pace with captain Simon Francis sent off.

Alexis Sanchez, Lucas Perez and Olivier Giroud all netted one apiece to snatch a last-gasp draw for the Gunners.

CARRYING KNOCKS

Said Wenger: "We had three or four players who had to wait until the warm-up to see if they could play.

"Hector Bellerin had a knock so he was uncertain to play, and that's the problem with only 48 hours (between games); you have to play some players again.

"Laurent Koscielny too, and we had Gabriel (Paulista) whom we didn't start in the end.

"And then I didn't start Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain because I didn't take a gamble with him, because I didn't know who we'd have to take off.

"This complicates the job a lot, but we have to shut up and cope with it."

The draw leaves Arsenal in fourth place, delivering another dent to their hopes of catching up with Chelsea.

"You don't really speak about us and we don't look around us at the moment," said Wenger, of Arsenal's title chances.

"Look, I'm ready to play tomorrow again as long as we play against an opponent who has played today as well. That is what I call fair.

"For the rest, we have to play when we are told to play. But we want to play against teams in the same time of rest and preparation as we have." - WIRE SERVICES

Clubs set to get busier next Christmas

Premier League clubs will find themselves under greater pressure from fixture scheduling next season, but no decision has yet been made on whether an even more gruelling festive period can be avoided.

Several managers have expressed their surprise about the demands placed on some teams over Christmas and New Year.

Southampton were by far the worst-off, playing three games in just under five days - about 117 hours - and suffering three defeats.

"We are also the one team with three games in five days and this is very difficult. It is not possible," said manager Claude Puel, after their loss to Everton on Monday.

TV presenter Gary Lineker suggested next season will be even worse for top-flight clubs.

6 GAMES IN 16 DAYS

"If you think this PL holiday fixture list is mad, here's next year: December 16, 20, 23, 26, 30, January 1. World Cup follows. Utterly Bonkers," he tweeted.

Press Association Sport understands the dates highlighted by the former England international are on the 2017/18 draft schedule and match days will not be confirmed until June, when the official programme is released after Fifa and Uefa fixtures and FA Cup dates have been decided.

Even then, matches will still be subject to change for a variety of reasons, mainly to suit television requirements.

Next season's calendar throws up a few challenges for the Premier League, which has agreed to finish early so that the England national team have a full month to prepare for the tournament in Russia.

The Premier League has also agreed with the FA that, where possible, the FA Cup will have its own standalone date and not clash with any other matches.

This season's festive schedule, generally speaking, saw five matches scheduled over 19 days.

A worst-case scenario next season could see six games played in 16 days. - PA SPORT

eplCHELSEA (EPL)Antonio Conte