Tonight’s game against Maccabi Tel Aviv will be Chelsea’s 21st competitive fixture in just under four months, from the Community Shield onwards, and ahead of it, Jose Mourinho has spoken about how a major club can cope with the workload involved.
Those matches are added to by international commitments which in 2015 stretched into the summer despite a lack of a World Cup or a Euros this year, and our manager gave details of the plan implemented.
‘I think there are too many games but not just for us, it is for every club which has players involved in every competition – European competitions, domestic competitions, national team players playing World Cups, European Championships, some of them Africa Cups, some of them Copa America,’ Mourinho said.
‘It is difficult to have a good period of holiday and sooner or later you pay the price.
‘We decided last summer to give the players a proper holiday. We thought that they did a lot in the previous season and they were involved in consecutive competitions. We had players in the Copa America too, players involved in international matches when they should be on holiday, so we decided to give them a proper holiday, believing that the crucial period of the season starts in February.
‘What we couldn’t imagine is the pressure of the bad results would push us in the direction of so many bad results.
‘Another approach is not to give proper holidays, it is to give them two weeks of holiday and to start the pre-season very, very early and then pay the price later, because there are no miracles, nobody can be 11 months at the top of their form.
‘So I think the teams without so many international players are teams with conditions to have everything. They can come into the competition very strong because they start [pre-season] early. They don’t have the accumulation of matches during the season so it is another factor reducing the difference between the top teams and the other teams, and allows the other teams to close the gap. I think that is nice but it is more difficult for us.’
For Chelsea, one of the big aims of this season is to ensure we will be back in the Champions League next season, and there remain two paths to that target, one through success in Europe this campaign and the other through our Premier League position.
‘Two seasons ago Man United didn’t qualify for the Champions league; last year Liverpool didn’t qualify for the Champions League,’ notes Mourinho, ‘and I said before the season started that another big team will not qualify for the Champions League. We have to make sure that big team is not Chelsea.
‘I know how the Premier League is at the moment. It is a completely different reality from years ago. There is this risk.
‘How can we qualify for the Champions League? I think we have to fight the next match. Now the next match is in the Champions League and we have to fight this match, believing that it is the way that can take us to Champions League football next season.
‘After tonight we will look at the Premier League match against Tottenham and we have to think that with more than 70 points to play for, the Premier League is still a window of opportunity for us to qualify.’