Roberto Di Matteo said yesterday that the decision to schedule Chelsea's FA Cup semi-final with Tottenham Hotspur at 6pm on Sunday 15 April – just three days before a potential Champions League semi-final with Barcelona or Milan – had left the Stamford Bridge club "disappointed and angry".
The FA revealed the decision yesterday, leaving Chelsea frustrated that their efforts to convince the authorities to play the game earlier in the day had come to nothing, while Di Matteo accused the governing body of not doing enough to support the efforts of domestic clubs in European competition.
The possibility of the club facing two important cup ties in a short period of time increased this week when Di Matteo's team, England's last remaining representatives in Europe, secured a 1-0 victory in their Champions League quarter-final first leg against Benfica in Lisbon, making them favourites to progress following Wednesday's home return. Should they reach the last four, however, they will have less than 72 hours to prepare for the first leg of the tie following a draining meeting with Spurs at Wembley.
With the other FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Everton scheduled for a lunchtime kick-off the previous day, Chelsea were resigned to playing on the Sunday. The FA, though, rejected the idea of sanctioning an earlier kick-off after consulting with other parties including the police, ITV, who will show the game live, the Premier League and other broadcasters. The evening kick-off ensures there will be no clash with the game between Manchester United and Aston Villa, which starts at 4pm on the same day.
"They have their reasons and, ultimately, we have to respect them," said Di Matteo. "We are disappointed and angry as well. But we have to respect it." He added: "I'd say that common sense hasn't prevailed."
Faced with the possibility of preparing his squad for two intense cup ties in such a short period of time, Di Matteo admitted the outcome reinforced his view that, compared to the flexibility shown by governing bodies in other countries, English clubs receive few favours from the FA when it comes to preparing for European competition.
"Look at the other federations, they give you [their competing clubs] the best possible preparation, playing even a day before rather than the day after, whether you play on a Tuesday or Wednesday," he said, maintaining a theme set by Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson in previous seasons. "It does make a big difference, absolutely, that 24 hours." He added: "This year we're looking at just one club left in the quarter-finals. It doesn't reflect well on England, the Premier League or FA."
Di Matteo's more immediate priority is to prepare for today's visit to Aston Villa, where his side will attempt to strengthen their hopes of reclaiming a top-four place. Chelsea currently lie five points adrift of Tottenham who face Swansea tomorrow. The gap would appear daunting but the temporary manager believes the task is not beyond them: "Looking on the bright side, we have made some points up on Spurs and we have to focus on that. We're closer to them than we were. I think it's still in our hands."
European aid: How other countries do it
Benfica's domestic match prior to this week's Champions League quarter-final first leg with Chelsea was brought forward to the Friday to aid their preparations, while in France, Marseilles successfully asked for today's match with Montpellier to be moved to next month to give them more time to prepare for next week's second leg with Bayern Munich.
While television schedules in the Premier League are usually announced four to six weeks in advance, TV dates for Italian and Spanish matches are in general announced nearer the date, with preference invariably given to those playing in European competition the following week.