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Is a title challenge possible for Man Utd?

Manchester United
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Roberto Di Matteo rips Premier League

Roberto Di Matteo accused the Premier League of risking Chelsea's Club World Cup hopes and his players' health after it refused to postpone the club's Premier League game against Sunderland.

Chelsea had asked for their Dec. 8 game at Sunderland to be moved in order to allow it to travel early to Japan for the 10-day tournament.

But that request was denied this week, leaving a fuming Di Matteo to moan that Chelsea had not been given enough time to acclimate to the time difference ahead of its semifinal on Dec. 13.

"You would think that the Premier League would have every interest in making sure that they give you the best chance to be successful in Japan, which would reflect very, very well on English football and the Premier League," Di Matteo said. "So, I'm very surprised about it. I just can't get my head round it.

"To give yourself the best chance travelling to Japan, with nine hours time difference, arriving three days before, you will need to do everything in your power to be able to (be) ready for those games. The tournament starts on the 6th so the team we play in the semifinals will have been there already for a week. It's a big risk in terms of health, injury risk for the players too."

It is not the first time Di Matteo has been angered by the scheduling of Chelsea's fixtures. The club campaigned furiously to avoid a 6 p.m. kickoff in last season's FA Cup semifinal days before its Champions League semifinal against Barcelona.

The Club World Cup is not as highly regarded in England as European competitions, but Di Matteo called it "one of the biggest trophies in international club football, if not the biggest."

"Maybe, in England, it's not regarded as so big but you speak to the South Americans, you speak to the Asians, you speak to everybody else involved, it's a massive, massive competition," Di Matteo said. "We've never won it. Obviously you need to win the Champions League to even be able to play and be involved. To win that trophy would be something special.

"It's massive. Winning that trophy would mean the world. It's a trophy we don't have in our cabinet and we desperately want to bring it to Stamford Bridge."

Di Matteo could field a weakened team at Sunderland, but that would risk a Premier League fine.

"If you field players from your squad, I'm not so sure you can call it a weakened side. They register a squad, 25 men," Di Matteo said.

The Premier League discussed Chelsea's request at board level but declined to comment on Di Matteo's complaint.

Manchester United won the Club World Cup in 2008 despite also playing a league match at Tottenham five days before their semifinal.

United also went on to clinch the Premier League title and reach the Champions League final.

"The fixture list is obviously very full," Di Matteo said. "But where there's a will, there's a way. You see all the other federations trying to help their teams to do well in Europe."

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