Belfast Telegraph

Rivals Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger united in frustration at festive schedule

Long-time rivals Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger have for once found common ground by querying the Premier League's Christmas schedule.

Each top-flight side will play three games between December 26 and January 4, yet the breaks between fixtures varies from club to club and it is leaders Chelsea who will benefit the most of all 20 teams given they visit fellow Londoners Tottenham four days after hosting Stoke, and nine days after entertaining Bournemouth.

Like Mourinho's old club, Manchester United are in action on Boxing Day and New Year's Eve, but they visit West Ham on January 2, two days before Chelsea's clash with Spurs.

United's three-game pattern, with a cumulative five days off between their first and third matches, is the one eight of the top-flight clubs have, including Manchester City.

And while Chelsea have a combined seven days off between contests, Southampton can lay claim to the biggest gripe about the fixtures given they are in action on December 28, December 31 and January 2 - leaving them with three games in six days.

"The busy period is for some clubs, not for everyone," Mourinho said.

"If you analyse the fixtures there are clubs where there is no congestion for them. It looks like the fixtures are chosen to give rest for some and to create problems to others.

"But we are used to it because we are in the Europa League and the Europa League is the competition that creates more difficulties - we know that, Southampton know that, Tottenham will know that later. It's very difficult so for us it's just more of the same."

Earlier in the season Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp had expressed his frustration about the way these fixtures had been arranged after learning that, due to television, his team face two games in less than 48 hours.

And Mourinho was, for once, joined in his sense of injustice by archenemy Wenger as the Arsenal boss questioned how the festive calendar had been handled after they were assigned games on January 1 and 3.

"It's a bit surprising this year because I don't completely understand the organisation of the fixtures this season," the Frenchman said.

"Last week, after the Champions League, we played two games so that's three games a week. This week we have eight days without a game.

"After that, some teams play on the 26th and the 1st so they have a complete week's break over Christmas which is unusual.

"Then suddenly you play on the 1st and then the 3rd, just 48 hours later. I don't whether it's the television companies or the Premier League who have decided that, but it's completely unusual. It looks less congested than it did before."

Mourinho can at least take comfort in the fact his squad are almost at full strength ahead of the hectic run.

The Portuguese reported that full-back Luke Shaw is the only injury absentee for United due to a groin strain, meaning Henrikh Mkhitaryan (ankle) and Eric Bailly (knee) could return against Sunderland on Boxing Day.

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