London (AFP) – Antonio Conte claims Chelsea have been harshly treated by the Premier League fixture planners as the leaders try to survive a “crucial week” in the title race.
Conte’s side beat Tottenham 4-2 in a thrilling FA Cup semi-final at Wembley on Saturday to book a final date with Arsenal or Manchester City.
The Blues were under the cosh for long periods, but Willian’s brace and superb late goals from Eden Hazard and Nemanja Matic ensured Chelsea remain on course for the double.
To achieve that lofty ambition, Chelsea need to crush Tottenham’s dreams again as the north Londoners are just four points behind in the title race.
But Conte fears Chelsea’s chances of holding off Tottenham have been hindered by the way the fixtures fall this week.
On Tuesday, Chelsea host Southampton, who will be refreshed after 10 days rest, while Tottenham have an extra day to recover before travelling to Crystal Palace on Wednesday.
Conte tried to plan ahead for the midweek schedule by leaving Hazard and Diego Costa on the bench for the first hour at Wembley.
And with Palace having to play at Liverpool on Sunday before taking on Tottenham, Conte is concerned Mauricio Pochettino’s team will be able to make their extra rest pay off.
“This week is crucial for us because in this week Tottenham have the advantage,” Conte said.
“You must try to have balance with the fixtures and put both teams in the best situation to fight.
“Sometimes it’s very difficult to understand the fixtures, but we have to answer on the pitch.”
While Conte tries to engender an us against the world mentality in his players with his fixture complaints, the Italian acknowledged beating Tottenham should give Chelsea valuable momentum in the title fight.
“We have to exploit the momentum for sure. It is really important to win against a team fighting with you for the title,” he said.
“We have only two days to rest and recover. Southampton is a very tough game and we must know Tottenham want to fight until the end to fight for the title.”
– Exciting team –
Asked if he was concerned about the potential damage to Chelsea’s morale if his selection gamble had backfired on Saturday, Conte said: “You have to take this responsibility.
“You must involve the players in your plan, and take this risk.
“You hope the decision is good. For sure it’s not easy to decide to start without two really important players.”
Tottenham’s latest failure on the big occasion raised renewed questions about a talented team’s ability to turn potential into prizes.
Pochettino’s side also lost to Chelsea at Wembley in the 2015 League Cup final and flopped at the national stadium while playing their Champions League matches there this season.
“I can’t change the past. I know the history but I believe this is an exciting team,” Pochettino said.
“Two years ago it was difficult to imagine we could fight for the Premier League but it is a reality.”
Pochettino did his best to accentuate the positives of a enterprising display and refused to acknowledge a lack of killer instinct had derailed his side.
“It’s difficult to explain. We were unlucky. I feel proud of my players,” he said.
“We gave all we had. I have nothing (negative) to say.”
Urging his players to shake off their Wembley heartache, Pochettino wants Spurs to keep Chelsea under pressure in the league.
“It’s true the players are disappointed but we will move on,” he said.
“We will work on the training ground to focus on the next game against Palace.
“If you play like we did today then you can’t be worried. we gave our best.
“The gap is four points and we will try to catch up to them.
“We must try to be calm and give support to our players. C’mon, lets try to win the next game.”
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