22 Nov Antonio Conte questions fixtures as cause of Champions League struggles
Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte thinks the schedulers of Premier League fixtures are hindering English clubs’ chances of winning the Champions League.
Chelsea this week are embarking on their longest Champions League journey – it is almost 2,500 miles (4000 kilometres) between London and Baku, further than the November 2015 trip to Israel – before facing Liverpool in the Premier League on Saturday.
The Blues need a win over Qarabag to guarantee their progress to the last 16 and can ill afford to drop points at Anfield as their deficit to Manchester City is nine points after 12 games.
Conte said: “If you ask me if we’re ready to catch up Manchester City, whoever prepares the fixtures must try to change something. I think this is the best way for English football.
“I’m talking for all the teams who are playing in the Champions League, not just for Chelsea.
“For a lot of time, there isn’t an English team playing a final in the Champions League. Why (is) this?
“The teams are very strong and every team has the possibility to go through to the path to the Champions League (final).
“I don’t like to find excuses or alibis, but this is the reality. Sometimes I think it’s right to give respect for our job.”
Chelsea, who won the European Cup in 2012, are the last English team to have reached the final.
Conte’s complaint is familiar. It is one made regularly by Jose Mourinho, Chelsea’s former boss who is now at Manchester United.
Baku is four hours ahead of London, but Chelsea are staying on Greenwich Mean Time to limit the effects of jet lag.
The Blues expect to return to London at around 4am on Thursday.
The Liverpool clash has been selected by broadcaster BT Sport for the 1730GMT slot. BT is also showing the Qarabag tie.
Liverpool, who play Sevilla on Tuesday night, have an additional day’s recovery time.
The Blues lost to City following their win at Atletico Madrid in September, when Conte also pointed out the inconsistency as City had played at home 24 hours earlier.
“I’m a bit surprised because, this season, it’s the second time,” Conte said.
Had Chelsea beaten City, they would have been three points behind Pep Guardiola’s men. As it transpired, the Blues also lost to Crystal Palace, making a successful title defence seem unlikely.
Chelsea began their European campaign with a 6-0 win over Qarabag, who have since pushed Roma close and drawn twice with Atletico.
The Blues, meanwhile, have lost the lead of Group C to Roma following a draw and a 3-0 defeat in Italy.
Conte has no fresh injuries and is likely to rotate his options. David Luiz could return in defence after he lost his place to Andreas Christensen following the loss at Roma.
Conte added: “I trust in all my players.”
Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois said: “I hope Rome was a learning point for everyone and we continue having this focus throughout the rest of the season.”
Courtois’ contract expires in June 2019. Asked about discussions over a new deal, the 25-year-old, who has repeatedly been linked with Real Madrid, said: “We have so many games at this point. There will be time enough towards the end of the season to have talks.”