José Mourinho claims European 'holiday' gives Liverpool title advantage

• Reds can plan better with fewer games, says Chelsea coach
• Luis Suárez to meet Blues for first time since biting Ivanovic

Brendan Rodgers intends to "fight his corner" after being asked by the Football Association to explain his comments about the referee Lee Mason following Liverpool's Boxing Day defeat at Manchester City.

The Liverpool manager questioned the decision to appoint Mason because the referee is from the Greater Manchester area and described the officiating as "horrendous". He has until 2 January to provide his observations to the FA. If charged and found guilty Rodgers faces a fine or warning over his conduct.

Rodgers insisted on Friday that his remarks were not intended as an attack on Mason's integrity. "I was only speaking honestly after the game," he said. "I think the FA and the Referees' Association know perfectly well I am someone who engages in supporting the referees. I am not one that berates referees at all after games.

"In terms of geography I certainly wasn't questioning the integrity of referees. It was more the logic of it in terms of having a referee from that part of the world refereeing a game in Manchester. I wouldn't suspect that Mike Dean, from the Wirral, has refereed many games for Liverpool over the years."

Dean was dropped from officiating at the 2006 FA Cup final between Liverpool and West Ham for geographical reasons. Rodgers added: "I think if you look at my record since I have been a manager, I have never had any indiscretions whatsoever. I never get involved in that way of working – I don't play games. I am sure that is something they will look at but I will always fight my corner."

Liverpool play at Chelsea on Sunday and José Mourinho believes their José Mourinho believes Liverpool's lighter schedule, devoid as it is of European participation, is akin to a "holiday" and ensures Rodgers' side will mount a sustained and persuasive challenge for the Premier League title.

Chelsea play Liverpool at Stamford Bridge on Sunday having edged a point ahead of their visitors on Boxing Day. Mourinho acknowledged the prolific Luis Suárez had been the difference between the sides to date but, while he still considers Manchester City to be favourites to win the championship, he expects the challenge from fourth-placed Liverpool to be maintained.

"They can [win the title] because they are good, because Brendan is good, because they have time to prepare the team tactically and because they are not involved in the heat of the knockout situation in the Champions League or even the Europa League," Mourinho said.

"My players are going to play 60 matches this season. Liverpool's will play 40 matches. It's a big difference. Quality plus ambition plus this advantage, so yes, they can win it.

"City are the big favourites. Arsenal are like us: they play in the Champions League, they are trying to improve on the last few years having not been at the top of the league for a while. And Manchester United, in spite of being a few points behind, have the reality of [what they have achieved in] the last years. Liverpool are on holidays one season: one week to prepare a match, play the match, one more week to prepare the next match. An unbelievable advantage.

"Brendan is doing fantastically, but he's training every week in a calm way. Every day – maybe twice a day – which is a big advantage when you build your team. You know how many tactical works I've done since pre-season? Not many. It's easy for a team who do that every week to have some dynamic. Not to be involved in European competition gives them a big advantage: not in terms of resting, but in terms of work."

While Rodgers, a former academy and reserve team manager at Chelsea, has impressed Mourinho – "He is one of my best friends in the game" – it is Suárez whom the hosts must stifle. During the striker's last meeting with Chelsea he bit Branislav Ivanovic – an offence that earned him a 10-match ban that extended into the beginning of this season – and scored a late equaliser at Anfield in April.

"Iva is a big guy and, when I say 'big guy', I mean big strong heart, big strong personality," said Mourinho when asked about that incident. "He's not a Mickey Mouse player who complains at little things, so this was clearly a big thing, but Iva thinks it's something from the past. Everyone moves on. He's moved on."

As has Suárez, who has scored 19 league goals. Chelsea's trio of forwards have managed only five between them. "That's what it is, that's what it is," said Mourinho when it was suggested the Uruguayan has proved the difference. "He has fantastic numbers. He didn't start the season – with suspension – and after that the numbers are fantastic.

"But Liverpool started the season without Suárez and managed to win matches without him. When he came back, it was a big plus for them. But let's be fair: Liverpool did very well without him when he was suspended."

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