Liverpool (AFP) – Antonio Conte called for Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur to play at the same time in the critical Premier League title run-in to avoid giving an unfair advantage.
Conte’s Chelsea are four points clear of second-placed Tottenham with just five games remaining in a tense battle to be crowned English champions.
The Blues retain control of the title race after beating Southampton on Tuesday, but Tottenham are hot on their heels following their victory at Crystal Palace 24 hours later.
Chelsea appear to have a favourable run-in compared to Tottenham, who host north London rivals Arsenal shortly after Chelsea’s clash at Everton on Sunday.
Conte doesn’t believe Chelsea have an advantage with the fixture schedule and said it would be fairer if the two title contenders played all their matches at the same time.
“At the end of the season when you have two teams in contention for the title, you must have the two fixtures at the same hour, on the same day. Don’t give the advantage to one team or the other,” he said on Friday.
“When you can see there are two or three teams very close in the fight, you have to find a solution. Then you can really see who is the best.”
With no margin for error, Conte knows his players might be vulnerable to feeling stressed and anxious as the pressure mounts.
But the Chelsea manager has tried to combat that problem by telling them to revel in the experience of playing for such high stakes.
“We are ready and we have worked hard to arrive here to fight for the title,” Conte said.
“For this reason we want to reach this target with all our strength.
“We have to do our job with the right pressure but at the same time to enjoy it.”
After recent defeats against Manchester United and Crystal Palace raised questions about Chelsea’s ability to get over the finish line, the west Londoners were revitalised by their FA Cup semi-final win over Tottenham and the midweek success against Southampton.
– Lukaku threat –
The biggest threat to Chelsea on Sunday will come from their former striker Romelu Lukaku, who has been linked with a return to Stamford Bridge after scoring 25 goals in all competitions for Everton this term.
The 23-year-old Belgian left the Blues for Everton three years ago and reports claim Chelsea would have to pay £100 million ($129 million, 119 million euros) to re-sign him.
Asked if playing a potential suitor might unsettle Lukaku, Everton boss Ronald Koeman said: “I don’t know. We will see. Normally not. The players always like to show the best of themselves.
“We like to keep the best players but we know it is difficult. I don’t know if it is possible at the moment.”
Seventh-placed Everton could clinch a spot in the Europa League this weekend, but Koeman is looking for a more dynamic display after last weekend’s drab goalless draw against West Ham.
“Maybe we need to change our mentality a bit because I felt a bit less intensity in the game last week, maybe a bit less motivation,” he said.
“It is always difficult if you have already the seventh position in the pocket and maybe they get a little bit more holiday or end-of-season feeling. That is what I don’t like.”
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