For Chelsea to play on Boxing Day is traditional. What is less traditional in more recent times is for that to be followed up by another Premier League fixture on 28 December. Not since 2015 have the Blues been given a fixture just two days after fixture on the 26th, and even then the second of those matches was a tea-time kick-off with the first in the afternoon.
That was before this season however when our match against Aston Villa follows just 48 hours after today’s contest away against Arsenal. For Frank Lampard, that compromises the Premier League offering as both the best football to watch and as an even contest. He has been explaining why.‘It is counter-productive to the quality of the Premier League and it is a risk for players if they are going to play both games,’ he begins. ‘At the top end of elite sport everybody knows that.‘The Aston Villa game is being broadcast live as they all are now and we play Arsenal on Boxing Day, that is there, and our game with Man City has now been pushed to the Sunday, so the schedule meant that we could have played Aston Villa on Tuesday. They wanted an extra day rest and so did we, but we got overruled by both the Premier League and the broadcasters.‘This was bounced around, it got decided that we play twice in 48 hours when other teams that are challenging at the top of the Premier League have an extra day’s recovery. I don’t see how it is a fair playing field, I think it is wrong and it is not going to be the best for the players to play at their top level.
‘Don’t get me wrong, Aston Villa have the same problem, but we are not getting the rest period that other teams are getting.’Lampard believes the tight turnaround will mean it is pretty much impossible for him to select the two starting sides without making multiple changes.‘I can’t expect to get a high-energy and high-level performance out of them. Every club in the Premier League has sports scientists, and when we play now it is the second day after a game when we will be training as a second-day recovery, because it is not good for the players to even train at a high or medium level, let alone play 90 minutes.‘Everybody club in the Premier League knows that, the Premier League knows that, so they have to inform the broadcasters. The broadcasters are looking for the best product.‘I will have to rotate players, I will have to see after Arsenal where players are in their fitness, every individual is different, we will do our best to get the turnaround right.’
The Chelsea boss can remember when a tightly crowded fixture list was more usual, but that was back when he was playing for West Ham 20 years ago and even if it was not as busy as playing the same team on Christmas Day and on Boxing Day as used to happen in England up to the 1950s, the current season still feels like a throwback to him.‘For some reason someone has taken it back in time when we have the best product in the world and we want to see the best product on the pitch.’The almost certain rotation over the next few days does of course mean for some squad members, a door of opportunity opens.‘I know they are training at a high level, even if they are frustrated not to play,’ Lampard says. ‘Here’s their chance to come in and play and try to keep our levels and stake a claim for the team regularly. I am not saying it is a massive dropdown, I am not putting my case about the two games to the point where I am questioning my squad. It is just about a fair playing field.’