Chelsea yesterday accused the Premier League of handing their title rivals "an unnecessary competitive advantage" after their fixture against Everton was moved forward two days – and implied that they may take legal action unless the decision is changed.
The fixture alteration means that Chelsea will now have to play two league matches in 72 hours. They face Wigan Athletic at home on Monday 14 April in a televised game and then, after a rest day and a warm down, will have to travel to Merseyside on Wednesday 16 April to take on Everton the following evening in another fixture that is to be screened.
At the same time Manchester United and Arsenal play each other on Sunday 13 April at Old Trafford – but then both do not play again until Saturday 19 April. United are away to Blackburn Rovers that day while Arsenal are at home to Reading.
Quite what kind of action Chelsea can take beyond protesting to the Premier League – which they have done – and offering alternative dates – which they also have done – is not clear. Legal action appears to be something they are considering but what form it could take is uncertain.
In a strongly-worded statement Chelsea said the fixture change – they were originally due to play Everton on Saturday 19 April – "undermined the sporting integrity of the competition" because they had so little recovery and preparation time between games at a critical time of the season.
The statement added: "Secondly, there has been no consideration given to our fans who will be presented with serious travel, work and other issues." Chelsea said some supporters have already booked trains for the original date.
"And lastly, the decision sets a dangerous precedent in changing match days still further when fixture congestion does not exist and when a sensible solution regarding other television matches that weekend was suggested."
Everton, who play on 12 April, are not opposing the change but admitted yesterday that they were unaware it was going to happen until it was announced on a radio bulletin. After facing Everton, Chelsea are now not due to play another league game for nine days, when they are at home to Manchester United in what could be the title decider.
A Premier League spokesman defended the fixture change last night. "The compilation of the fixture list is a complex procedure that faces enormous pressure from international match and European competition dates, as well as the need to balance the important requirements of the police and our broadcasters," he said. "We are also required by the European Commission to televise 138 matches per season, which brings its own inevitable pressures. Under these difficult circumstances, this date was seen as the fairest that could be achieved."
Yesterday Chelsea's manager, Avram Grant, said it has been "like a dream" that Chelsea have hauled themselves into title contention, especially after beating Arsenal last Sunday. "I hope we can do our job," he said of the games before they face the only team above them in the league, "and when United come to Stamford Bridge, that we will be in touch and we can go above them, too."
Grant brushed aside continuing concerns that Chelsea supporters have not taken to him by saying it was not his problem. "People like to look at the negatives," Grant said. "Many, many supporters of Chelsea support the club and even support me. If others think otherwise, it's not my problem, I need to do my job."
Part of that involves improving defending from set-pieces, despite a run of 14 unbeaten league games. Grant said his players needed to be "more awake" but then went on to argue that John Terry was in fine form and was a "strong character" who would shrug off the disappointment of having been overlooked to captain England against France on Wednesday.
Grant said that Terry, despite some concern over a strained hamstring, is fit to face Middlesbrough tomorrow but there are doubts over Frank Lampard who is still suffering from the stomach bug that forced him out of England's game.
Chelsea have announced details of their pre-season tour to Asia, which will include games in China and Malaysia. The club said yesterday it will make "all the necessary provisions" so that Grant and Tal Ben Haim are granted visas to Malaysia. Special dispensation is needed for Israelis to enter Malaysia as the two countries do not have formal diplomatic relations.Reuse content