Jose Mourinho insists he has been left with no choice but to send out an under-strength Chelsea team in Tuesday’s League Cup fourth-round clash at Arsenal.
Mourinho is fuming that League Cup fixture planners decided to schedule Chelsea’s trip to the Emirates Stadium just 48 hours after his side’s 2-1 win over Manchester City in the Premier League.
The Blues boss claims Arsenal have been given an unfair advantage because they played at Crystal Palace on Saturday lunchtime, giving them extra time to recover before the London derby.
Mourinho’s complaints ignore the fact that Gunners manager Arsene Wenger routinely fields shadow squads made up of fringe players and youngsters in the League Cup, but that didn’t stop the Portuguese coach letting rip when asked if he would field a strong team for the last-16 tie.
“We are going to give the game that the people that put the game on Tuesday want. If they want a big game, we cannot give the big game,” Mourinho said.
“If they want the players that were playing today [Sunday], we cannot give them that. If they want Arsenal to win a trophy, that’s a help.
“If they want a big game between two big teams in London, they should put the game on Wednesday and not on Tuesday, because I am not going to do that.”
Mourinho claimed that, out of respect for Chelsea’s fans, he would stop short of sending out a starting line-up made up entirely of youth team players.
But he has no intention of putting his key stars under what he believes is unfair duress.
“It’s not the plan because we have to respect also our fans. We discussed that in the club. We have to protect our players,” he said.
“We cannot put our players in two matches in the space of three days. Arsenal played Saturday at 12.30, so two and a half days to rest and to prepare. So I hope they all enjoy.”
With both sides set to field weakened teams, the edge has been taken off what could have been an fascinating clash between the top two teams in the current Premier League standings.
Even so, there could still be a few sparks flying on the touchline as Mourinho and Wenger renew hostilities for first time since the Chelsea chief returned to England after spells at Real Madrid and Inter Milan.
Mourinho infuriated Wenger during his first stint at Chelsea by describing his rival as a “voyeur” who was obsessed by the Blues.
And, asked about their relationship on Sunday, Mourinho was unable to resist another mischievous jab at the Frenchman.
“We have no problems, no. Unless you tell me that he had an influence on this [the timing of matches]. If you tell me that...”
Wenger was keener to keep the focus on the pitch and he called on his players to show they believe they are capable of finally winning silverware this season after an eight-year trophy drought.
“There are people who do not believe that we have a chance, but the only thing we can do is win our games,” Wenger said.
“The only thing which is important is every win makes you a bit stronger and strengthens the belief.”
Elsewhere in the fourth round, Manchester United will look to maintain the momentum of their come-from-behind 3-2 win over Stoke on Saturday when they face Norwich at Old Trafford.
Tottenham meet Hull for the second time in four days looking for a repeat of their 1-0 win over Steve Bruce’s side in the Premier League on Sunday.
Newcastle, beaten by hated neighbours Sunderland, and Manchester City, defeated by title rivals Chelsea, will both be desperate to get back on track at St James’ Park.
Fourth-round fixtures, Tuesday: Arsenal v Chelsea, Birmingham v Stoke, Burnley v West Ham, Leicester v Fulham, Manchester United v Norwich
Wednesday: Newcastle v Manchester City, Tottenham v Hull
Note: Sunderland v Southampton tie moved to November 6