On Saturday, Chelsea saw off the challenge of visitors Newcastle, sending the Geordies back to the north east with little to show from their long round trip after a 3-1 victory for the reigning champions. That match was Chelsea’s third in seven days, following a draw with Liverpool and a win over struggling Swansea. Not a bad run of form, though it was only enough to keep Chelsea in third place behind the two Manchester clubs.
Prior to the Newcastle win, Conte admitted that he believes there is a “fixture conspiracy” against his side, citing the fact that the Swansea game was the fourth out of 14 at that time of the season whereby the Blues had less time for preparation than their opponents owing to their on-field commitments.
He had been vocal in his despair that Chelsea had to take on Liverpool in the Premier League just three days after their Champions League game at the home of Azerbaijani champions Qarabag. Conte has never been reserved in coming forward with his views – and indeed if you like some nice spread betting advice, odds have been falling on his departure from life in the Premier League before too long – but the former Italy boss says he struggles to find it a coincidence that his team are regularly entering games less refreshed than those occupying the other half of the pitch.
However, his views aren’t borne out too much when considering the upcoming fixtures. Admittedly, Chelsea have 10 games to play in 33 days – not exactly a part time schedule for a professional footballer. However, Manchester City and Manchester United have to play those 10 games in two days less.
According to BBC Sport, over the Christmas period Chelsea’s fixtures are better spread than any other side in the entire Premier League barring Arsenal. This brings Conte’s viewpoint into serious question, and one does wonder if he is already laying the foundations to explain a shortage in success this season.
That appears a bit premature – they are third after all, and still in with a shot of glory in more than one cup competition, but then this type of philosophy isn’t really anything new.
Legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson complained in 2013 – shortly before his retirement from the game – complained that TV scheduling was interfering with Man United’s European endeavours. They won the Premier League that year, but their cup performance left something to be desired. Their FA Cup run was arguably their best that season, with a sixth round exit.
Chelsea, however, seemed to really enjoy their first season under Conte last year without the burden of European football after failing to qualify two years ago. It could be argued, therefore, that Conte seems to want to have his cake and eat it as well – the Blues clearly found an absence of European football unacceptable. However, those games are now clashing with their domestic duties to a level Conte seems to find unacceptable as well – despite Chelsea’s domestic fixture list proven one of the lightest, and one which will offer plenty of games where they will go in fresher than their opponents.
With the Italian national side still seeking a new permanent manager following the sacking of Gian Piero Ventura after failing to reach next year’s World Cup, Conte is someone who the Italian FA themselves have admitted they would like to bring back. This one could perhaps be worth a look, as Conte has history of walking if there is anything he doesn’t like about his day job. He left Juventus amid rumours of boardroom arguments, and if he believes Chelsea are being picked on with their scheduling – rightly or wrongly – the odds of his departure could well fall consistently until he eventually takes his bag and walks through the exit door at Stamford Bridge.