Chelsea have reacted angrily to having a potentially crucial Premier League match at Everton in mid-April brought forward by two days to suit television, claiming the move could hand Manchester United or Arsenal the title.
Chelsea, who play Wigan on Monday April 14, will now travel to Goodison Park on the Thursday of that week rather than on the Saturday as first planned.
In a statement, the west London club claimed the move gave rival clubs an unfair advantage. It stated:
“We believe the decision to hold the match on Thursday April 17 undermines the sporting integrity of the competition by giving our rivals for the Premier League title an unnecessary competitive advantage at a critical time of the season, with more recovery time from their previous match and preparation time for their next fixture when we have to play two games during the same period.
Secondly there has been no consideration given to our fans who will be presented with serious travel, work and other issues.”
Not wanted to question the issue too much, but traveling Chelsea fans? I thought they were all overseas…
“Football has benefited greatly from the backing of television and Chelsea as much as anyone else. However, this decision is one step too far and we reserve all rights on our position.”
Will they sue the Premier League? I doubt it.
Although the change of fixtures means Chelsea have to play two league matches in the space of four days, it also means that they will have two extra days to prepare for their April 26 meeting with Manchester United at Stamford Bridge, or for their Champions League semi-final tie on the 22/23 April, assuming they get past Fenerbahce in the quarters. Considering that those opponents will be either Arsenal or Liverpool, one would assume that Chelsea would look at the brighter side and not bitch about things since they can easily field a weakened side at home to Wigan and rest stars for the Goodison Park trip.
So doesn’t this constitute as an unfair advantage to Chelsea?
Later on Friday, the Premier League responded to Chelsea’s statement:
“The compilation of the fixture list is a complex procedure which 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.
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.”
I have no doubt that this is the fairest the Premier League could have done, apart from not televising this fixture or televising another fixture in its place (which would have been unfair since mid-table drudgery is as important as the title race). But is this a dangerous precedent, and will we see more of such fixture reshuffling in response to ‘consumer demands’?