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On Chelsea’s unfair fixture list

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Yes, it’s unfair.

Chelsea v Hull City - Premier League Photo by Ben Radford - Sky Sports/Getty Images

What started as a small Twitter thing has exploded into full media frenzy, with even the likes of Mourinho and Wenger singing the same tune of unfairness when it comes to Chelsea’s fixture list over the turn of the new year.

“The busy period is for some clubs, not for everyone. If you analyse the fixtures, there’s no congestion for them. It looks like the fixtures are chosen to give a rest for some and to create problems to others. But we’re used to it...”

-José Mourinho; source: Mirror

Statsbomb’s James Yorke got us started with this chart that you may have seen reprinted and retweeted from all kinds of sources.

Chelsea indeed manage to largely avoid the craziness of the festive scheduling, including that classic two games in three days thing that the Premier League likes to use as its calling card.

It should be noted that Yorke’s chart and most of the subsequent analysis ignores the fact that Chelsea had the most congested schedule the week prior (as did United; sorry, José!), or that we have just three days rest to the next game on the schedule (FA Cup on Sunday the 8th of January), when most other teams get more. Though that doesn’t really take away from the fact that Chelsea get more rest than any other team in the next week and a half.

So how did we get to this point? Previous seasons had minor differences in teams’ schedules over the holiday period, too, but it does feel like this season’s a bit more extreme.

If you compare those two charts to this season’s chart, one thing should stand out, the number of days with games. In 2014-15, the three rounds of games were conducted over just four days. In 2015-16, they were conducted over six, while this season it will take a whopping nine days to play three rounds of fixtures. More days with games equal more days with Premier League football on television.

As with all other complaints and moans (justified or unjustified), it all comes back to the TV schedules. Just another reminder where the real power lies in the Premier League, behind the lenses of Sky and BT Sport. The Premier League’s computer spits out the schedule on day 1, but by the time the games themselves roll around, the actual schedules could look drastically different.

“It’s a bit surprising because I don’t completely understand the organisation of the fixtures.”

“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 know if it’s the TV companies or the Premier League who have decided that, but it’s completely unusual.”

-Arsène Wenger; source: Mirror

Wenger is right that it is unusual. It’s also unfair. Just like previous seasons have been unfair to Chelsea. Just like scheduling tends to be unfair for teams involved in Europa and Champions League games.

Wenger (and others) are right to scratch their heads as to why Chelsea get, more or less, normal amounts of rests between games this coming week (unlike most of the rest) or why Spurs have ten (10!) days between matches over Christmas, having played against Burnley on the 18th but then having their game against Southampton moved to the 28th for Sky prime time. This in turn moved Spurs’ game previously scheduled for the 31st to the 1st of January (at Watford), which in turn moved their game previously scheduled for the 2nd of January to the 4th (the Chelsea game).

So instead of screaming bias or making stupid jokes about Abramovich, how about we look at the real reasons.

The way to fix unfairness isn’t with more unfairness of course, but that’s the reality of modern football. Until the Premier League and the TV companies make a concentrated effort to prioritize player health and fitness and recovery and fairness, we’ll be seeing these sorts of schedules if not even more unfair ones.

(Yes, there are occasionally policing concerns as well, but I’m simplifying a bit.)