Hiddink slams FA Cup scheduling as injuries mount

Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink is frustrated at fixture congestion.

JUSTIN TALLIS

Guus Hiddink has become the latest manager to criticize the scheduling of the FA Cup after Chelsea’s injury concerns worsened in Saturday’s 2-1 Barclays Premier League victory at Southampton.

Pedro was substituted in only the sixth minute after suffering a hamstring injury, joining Kurt Zouma, Radamel Falcao, Alexandre Pato and potentially John Terry in remaining unavailable for part of or all of a defining point in Chelsea’s season.

The Blues impressed with their resilience on Saturday, after second-half goals from Cesc Fabregas and Branislav Ivanovic – the latter an 89th-minute header – canceled out Shane Long’s fine first-half finish and extended Hiddink’s unbeaten run to 13 domestic games.

They this week face Norwich and Stoke in the Premier League before the second leg of their last-16 Champions League tie with Paris Saint-Germain and an FA Cup quarter-final with Everton on Saturday, March 12, but given they were originally scheduled to face Liverpool on March 13, Hiddink is unhappy the Everton fixture has been arranged for 24 hours earlier.

"(Pedro) got a problem with his hamstring," said Hiddink, whose concerns are similar to those expressed by Crystal Palace’s Alan Pardew in the build-up to their fifth-round victory at Tottenham last week. "We’ll see (what his diagnosis is).

"We have a tight schedule, Norwich on Tuesday and then Stoke and PSG. Then, surprisingly, the Everton game was put on a Saturday instead of a Sunday.

"Normally we should have played Liverpool on the Sunday. I don’t know who has decided that, all of a sudden, the Liverpool… It was astonishing that people could change the kick-off time.

"We have PSG on Wednesday night. Hopefully it doesn’t go into extra-time. The players, not just Chelsea players, need time when the intensity of the league is like this.

"The medical people at the FA and the Premier League should make this known as well. We have to protect the players.

"Every club and the FA have medical departments. The doctors should stand up and say: ‘FA, television, whoever…. hey’. It’s five games away, so there’s time, but I’m frustrated by that."

Southampton’s Ronald Koeman acknowledged the result effectively ended his team’s hopes of finishing in the Premier League’s top four.

A run of five wins from their previous six fixtures, and 708 minutes without conceding a solitary goal, had unexpectedly taken his team into contention for qualification for the Champions League, but Saturday’s defeat left them in seventh and seven points behind fourth-placed Manchester City, who have a game in hand.

HEAR US OUT

"We don’t think about the top four," said the 52-year-old, whose goalkeeper Fraser Forster broke a club record by surpassing 667 minutes without conceding. "We know our ambition.

"If we can do the same season as last year (when Southampton finished seventh), it’s like a championship. It’s difficult. You have to cope (with fixtures) one by one.

"We aren’t disappointed. We want to show our qualities, and we can be proud of what the team did (on Saturday).

"It’s a nice record (for Forster), because it’s all about the defensive work and organization of the team, and he can be proud of that. As can the team.

"But we are disappointed with the final result."