Fixture pile-up does Blues no favours

Chelsea forward Eden Hazard scoring his second against West Brom after rounding goalie Ben Foster. The English champions will now have to contend with a gruelling run of eight more games in a month.
Chelsea forward Eden Hazard scoring his second against West Brom after rounding goalie Ben Foster. The English champions will now have to contend with a gruelling run of eight more games in a month.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Antonio Conte criticised football's fixture planners as he prepares his side for a manic month in the wake of their 4-0 Premier League victory at West Brom on Saturday.

Conte's side eased to victory at The Hawthorns but the Italian is already warning his players they face their biggest game of the season at Azerbaijan's Qarabag in the Champions League on Wednesday.

The win against West Brom, which included two goals from Eden Hazard, was the first of nine games in a month in all competitions for the Blues.

Conte is worried about a repeat of the defeat by Manchester City in September, three days after a Champions League game in Spain.

"It was a pity to play against Manchester City only two days after we played Atletico Madrid away," he said. "We came back at 5am on Thursday and played on Saturday against Manchester City.

"Sometimes, the people who prepare these type of fixtures must pay more attention to give every team the same possibility.

A CLEAR DISADVANTAGE

We play Qarabag on Wednesday, we get back to London at 5am then we have another big game against Liverpool on Saturday. Is this normal?

ANTONIO CONTE, Chelsea manager, railing against the timing of Saturday's game at Liverpool, so close on the heels of their return from Azerbaijan.

"Now we have another problem. We play Qarabag on Wednesday, we get back to London at 5am then we have another big game against Liverpool on Saturday.

"Is this normal? I don't think so. If someone wants more balance in this league, they must pay greater attention to preparing fixtures."

On Saturday, West Brom started well and had an early goal ruled out for offside, but once Alvaro Morata drilled home the rebound from a Hazard shot in the 17th minute, they never looked back.

Morata turned provider six minutes later, his slick back-heel putting Hazard in to round 'keeper Ben Foster for a 2-0 lead, and an unmarked Marcos Alonso volleyed home a Cesc Fabregas free kick to make it 3-0 before half-time.

Hazard hammered home his second in the 62nd minute to cap a dominant Chelsea performance.

Conte's side now head for Qarabag knowing that victory will take them into the knockout phase despite back-to-back slip-ups against Roma.

"It was very important for us to start this very busy period with a good win, especially against West Brom because last season, we struggled a lot in both games," added Conte.

"This (Qarabag) will be the most important game of the season because we have a possibility with a win to go through to the next round of the Champions League, so to start our path in this way was very positive."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 20, 2017, with the headline 'Fixture pile-up does Blues no favours'. Print Edition | Subscribe