LONDON (AFP) – Jose Mourinho refuses to accept Chelsea are favourites to win the Premier League as the Blues bid to maintain pole position against struggling Fulham on Saturday.
Mourinho’s team hold a one-point advantage over second-placed Arsenal and, with third placed Manchester City in League Cup final action against Sunderland on Sunday, the Blues have an opportunity to pull clear of one of their main title rivals.
Chelsea will make the short trip across west London expecting to take all three points, given Fulham’s position at the bottom of the Premier League and Chelsea’s seven-game unbeaten record at Craven Cottage.
But Mourinho is adamant City, currently three points behind Chelsea, remain the leading candidates to win the title because they have a game in hand on the leaders.
“We are top of the table because Man City have one match in hand. If they win that match, we are not top of the table,” Mourinho said.
Mourinho also believes Chelsea’s hectic schedule, which sees his team back in action just three days after a gruelling Champions League draw against Galatasaray in Turkey, could work against them if fatigue starts to take hold.
“We all prefer to play game after game after game, but we all want to play game after game with conditions to recover, with equal conditions for every team, and no sense that a team has a privilege in the choices, and every team in the same country has the same privilege to be a little bit protected in relation to European matches,” Mourinho said.
“It makes the players’ job difficult, not my job. I can play a match every day, it is not a problem for me or the people who make the fixtures. I don’t run, they don’t run. It’s difficult for the players.”
If the leaders suffer a shock slip against Felix Magath’s team, Arsenal will hope to capitalise by regaining top spot with a rare victory at Stoke.
Arsene Wenger’s side have won only one of their last five visits to the Britannia Stadium and the fixture has often proved especially bruising for the sometimes fragile Gunners.
– Wenger happy to see players refreshed –
Wenger was forced to defend himself against criticism of his decision to give Arsenal’s players two days off this week, and the French coach admitted he has yet to decide whether to recall Germany midfielder Mesut Ozil, who missed last weekend’s win over Sunderland with a hip injury and has struggled to reach top form of late.
“He (Ozil) had a difficult game because he missed that penalty, and it was on his mind,” Wenger said.
“Sometimes when you’re under this kind of pressure it’s good to refresh.
“My opportunity is just to put the best team out who can win the game, it’s not about individuals, it’s about the team.”
Fourth-placed Liverpool head to Southampton looking to maintain their grip on the final Champions League berth and keep in touch with Chelsea.
Brendan Rodgers’ team sit just four points behind the leaders having emerged as surprise title contenders.
The Reds’ positive mood was threatened this week following Rodgers’ decision to haul off Denmark defender Daniel Agger just over an hour in last weekend’s 4-3 win over Swansea.
Agger had been well below his best, prompting speculation that he might be sold in the close-season.
But, in a bid to show his support for Agger, Rodgers confirmed 48 hours before kick-off that the Dane would start at St Mary’s.
“There has been a lot of spotlight, unfairly, on Daniel this week. What happened to Daniel was no different to what happened to any player,” Rodgers said.
Saturday (1500GMT unless stated)
Everton v West Ham, Fulham v Chelsea, Hull v Newcastle, Stoke v Arsenal, Southampton v Liverpool (1730GMT)
Sunday (all 1630GMT)
Aston Villa v Norwich, Swansea v Crystal Palace, Tottenham v Cardiff