Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho believes it is unacceptable that those playing for the Premier League title and to avoid relegation will not have completed the same number of games until the final week of the season.
The Blues recovered from defeats at Crystal Palace and Paris St Germain with a 3-0 win over Stoke to return to the top of the Premier League -- albeit having played a game more than Liverpool and two more than Manchester City, who play Aston Villa in a rearranged fixture on the final Wednesday of the campaign.
Bottom-of-the-table Sunderland, meanwhile, have three games in hand over Cardiff, Fulham and Norwich, who are all battling to avoid the drop.
Mourinho wrote off Chelsea's title challenge after the Selhurst Park loss and -- speaking during a news conference that contained Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore among its audience -- said the table is “fake.”
The Portuguese said: “The situation is the same. The table is again fake. The table is again with lots of matches in hand. You look to the top part of the table and, some teams, they have more matches than others. You look to the relegation area and it's exactly the same.
“In the top of the league we cannot say we need X points to be champions. If you look at the relegation area, Fulham or Cardiff or Norwich, they cannot say, 'We need this number of points to survive', because they don't know, because Sunderland have matches in hand.
“This, in the best league in the world, I don't think is the best image we are giving and it's not the best situation. To play matches in hand in the last week of the season, I don't think is adapted to this top football country.”
Mohamed Salah, on his full debut, and Willian scored either side of Frank Lampard's 250th club goal, which came in following up his saved penalty in the second half.
It was the response Mourinho -- now unbeaten in 77 home Premier League matches -- had demanded after criticising his players' inability to cope with Palace last weekend following a second successive away league loss.
“At home they feel more comfortable,” Mourinho said. “[But in the] Premier League we play 19 matches away, 19 at home.
“If I go to a wedding, I don't go in jeans. If I leave my house for a walk in Hyde Park, I don't go in a smoking [jacket]. So when you go to play against Crystal Palace at Crystal Palace, you know the way you have to go.
“These boys, they have to be able to go away from home and to adapt to the situation. This takes time, let's go step by step. In football, to be champions and to win titles, you have to play in the sun, in the rain, in the cold, in the hot, small pitches, big pitches, direct football, possession football. You have to adapt.”
Fernando Torres returned to the starting XI after being left out of Wednesday's striker-less line-up at Paris Saint-Germain, but had few chances of note.
“As always, he gave everything he can,” Mourinho said. “It's a pity he didn't score a goal because strikers need goals. Even in a match where you win 3-0, you don't score the winning goal, but if you can score a goal it's good for your confidence as a striker.”
Willian and Salah did find the net and were praised by their manager, although the Portuguese wants more from Willian next term.
“I want to see him score more goals,” Mourinho said. “I think he has to do that in the second season in the Premier League. I think he has to bring his game into other levels.”
After three straight wins, Stoke travelled with optimism of a first Stamford Bridge league win in 40 years, but offered little.
Manager Mark Hughes said: “I was disappointed in what we produced. In recent weeks we've been a lot better than that. For whatever reason we didn't have enough players playing at their maximum today.
“In the end we weren't able to ask enough questions of a good Chelsea team who, on the day, didn't really have to get out of second or third gear to take the game away from us.
“We needed to make a better fist of it than we did. That's the disappointment from our point of view.”