Chelsea boss Di Matteo: Fixture list could hinder top-four hopes

The Italian is unhappy at the scheduling of his side's matches, with the Blues still in the Champions League and FA Cup while also challenging for a place in the top four
Chelsea interim manager Roberto Di Matteo has hit out at the fixture list, claiming it is threatening to derail his side's quest for fourth spot in the Premier League.

The Blues are currently five points behind fourth-placed Tottenham, who they face on Saturday at Stamford Bridge, in the race for the final Champions League spot.

Saturday's clash with Spurs comes just three days after Di Matteo's side lost 2-1 away to Manchester City, and the Italian believes the fixture pile-up could prove detrimental to his hopes for a strong finish to the season.

He has suggested that the defeat to City may have been down to the club's packed schedule before pointing towards the fact that Champions League quarter-final opponents Benfica had their fixture brought forward to Friday to give them extra time to prepare for the first leg in Lisbon next Tuesday.

The Italian, whose side are currently in a run of six games in 17 days, told reporters: "It's absolutely right that the Premier League should move games to help English clubs.

"Other federations help their teams to be able to perform at their best, but that doesn't happen in England.

"Benfica will play Friday and Napoli had both of their games before they played us [in the last 16] brought forward, to give them more time to recover.

"I feel we shouldn't have played City on Wednesday - you could see at the end of the game they were fresher.

"You need to take into account the demands of the FA Cup and the Champions League, to give the teams still in those competitions an equal possibility to win.

"There was no doubt that, on Wednesday, City had an advantage and it means you become a victim of your success."

Di Matteo also believes the FA could have dealt with the scheduling of the FA Cup semi-finals more efficiently.

He said: "We've got the same situation possibly coming up if we get past Benfica - having to play the FA Cup semi-final three days before the next Champions League game.

"We understand why Liverpool can't play on the Sunday [April 15 is the anniversary of Hillsborough, and Liverpool have not played on that date since the disaster], but I feel we could've played our semi-final on the Friday night rather than the Sunday, absolutely."

The 41-year-old, who is set to be boosted by the return of John Terry for this weekend's London derby with Tottenham, believes his side have the hardest run-in but knows that he has a squad capable of achieving results and getting the club into the top four again.

He added: "We have the most difficult schedule, for certain, to the end of the season compared to the others [in the race for a top four finish] - to Arsenal and Tottenham.

"But we have to believe in the confidence in the team, to utilise the squad and select a team that is fresh as well to reach intensity levels you need to play a game.

"A win [against Tottenham] would give us a big lift, but also if manage to get the draw we're still in it, but if we lose it will be very difficult for us.

"I have never lost against Spurs and we know they haven't won at Stamford Bridge since 1990. Statistics, though, however much you look at them, are only the past - and you have to look to future.

"A good team shows a strong reaction after a defeat. I want to see that. That comes from motivating them to be ready for the next fight.

"Spurs are having a difficult moment, but they are fourth because they have a good team and we need a team ethic, a strategy, to stop good players like Bale, Modric, Adebayor, Van der Vaart, Defoe.

"I think it's a collective message and individual one to the whole team and every player. They must understand the thought process and we must make them buy into it as well.

"It's the way I always did it [when Di Matteo was manager] at MK Dons and West Brom - I like to communicate and speak to players but there's not one recipe for every team.

"You have to adapt to the players and the situation."