Premier League shareholders are set to meet on Monday amid calls from some clubs to shutdown the season after a tumultuous week involving multiple coronavirus outbreaks in teams.
Half of this weekend’s fixtures in England’s top-flight have been called off due to widespread cases among many clubs, with Brentford boss Thomas Frank leading calls to temporarily stop the busy winter schedule so the affected teams can recover.
That is not the view shared by Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp and Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish, with the latter claiming there is not a high enough ‘level of postponements’ to justify a temporary pause.
And an expert in public health has told Sportsmail that there will be no benefit from a shutdown, while Covid-19 infection rates are rising so rapidly, and the Premier League must prepare for six weeks of chaos.
Premier League chiefs will meet at the start of next week to discuss the coronavirus situation, but the top-flight still want to carry on the season as planned, with the majority of clubs wanting to continue playing.
The other half of the top-flight fixtures planned for this weekend are set to go ahead, barring any further outbreaks in the squads looking to play.
Those fixtures include Arsenal’s trip to Leeds and Tottenham’s match at home to Liverpool on Sunday. Wolves are currently planned to host Chelsea while Manchester City will travel to Newcastle as well.
The Premier League will hold a meeting to discuss the coronavirus situation on Monday
Many top-flight bosses have called for a temporary halt to get their virus issues under control
Manchester United’s clash with Brighton on Saturday lunchtime was one of five matches called off this weekend, with the top-flight striking off four matches in one go late on Thursday.
Ralf Rangnick’s United had just seven players available for the weekend visit of the Seagulls and have closed their Carrington training base until Tuesday. The club’s next game after that is a trip to Newcastle on December 27.
Overall, nine matches have been called off due to outbreaks sparked by the Omicron variant, starting from Tottenham’s match with Brighton on December 12 to the five weekend matches called off on Thursday.
Man United’s Premier League clash with Brighton was one of five games called off on Thursday
Brighton vs Tottenham – Sunday, December 12
Brentford vs Man United – Tuesday, December 14
Burnley vs Watford – Wednesday, December 15
Leicester vs Tottenham – Thursday, December 16
Man Utd vs Brighton – Saturday, December 18
Southampton vs Brentford – Saturday, December 18
Watford vs Crystal Palace – Saturday, December 18
West Ham vs Norwich – Saturday, December 18
Everton vs Leicester – Sunday, December 19
Thursday night’s clash between Leicester City and Tottenham was called off following requests from both camps this week and while Chelsea also reported a small number of cases on Thursday, their 1-1 draw with Everton went ahead.
But the league insisted that no temporary stoppage will be necessary and the top-flight is committed to sticking to the current winter schedule, which sees several teams playing every three days before the New Year.
A Premier League statement on Thursday read: ‘While recognising a number of clubs are experiencing Covid-19 outbreaks, it is the League’s intention to continue its current fixture schedule where safely possible. The health and wellbeing of all concerned remains our priority.’
And a ‘circuit break’ would have minimal impact, Paul Hunter, Professor of Medicine at the University of East Anglia, told Sportsmail.
In fact, it would only have a chance of success if the break lasted six weeks, until the Omicron peak has passed, he said.
‘The question is, ‘would a circuit break mean they would go back afterwards and everything would be OK’? And the answer is ‘no’,’ said Prof Hunter. ‘It is likely it would just delay the inevitable.’
The academic predicted more than a week ago that the Omicron variant would wreak havoc in football because it is particularly prevalent in the 20-30 age group and footballers have a patchy record on vaccination, meaning many are still short of their booster jab, with a significant proportion unvaccinated.
Supporters can to attend Premier League fixtures under the Government’s Plan B measures
Fans can attend matches in England under the Government’s Plan B measures.
In a stadiums, with a capacity of more than 10,000, supporters must be ready to show a Covid pass, which demonstrates double vaccination or a negative lateral flow test.
However, Professor Paul Hunter, an expert in public health, says fans can protect themselves further by following some simple guidelines.
‘If you are outdoors in a stand that is not too crowded then the risk is probably quite low,’ Prof Hunter told Sportsmail.
The most important measure to protect yourself is to have a double vaccination and a booster jab, said the expert.
The risk of transmission increases indoors, particularly in busy bars before or after the match or at half time.
‘Try to avoid queuing in close, packed environments, try not to be in a big crowd especially indoors.’
Arriving early and delaying your departure from the ground helps to avoid queues on stairs and at entry and exit points. Prof Hunter said a mask can reduce the risk of infection by 10 to 20 per cent.
‘There is no silver bullet, everything helps a bit to stop transmission,’ he said.
Professor Paul Hunter has warned a ‘festive firebreak’ won’t work
He has warned the ‘majority’ of clubs will experience an outbreak of Covid and once it has penetrated a squad’s bubble it can spread extremely quickly. While rates of Covid-19 infection remain high in the community, clubs will continue to be affected.
‘What is driving the pandemic is not football, it is everything around it in the community. Players will still be interacting with their families, their children…’ said Prof Hunter.
‘The risk to football will be greater at the end of a one-week circuit break because of what is going on in the community, because cases are going up quickly.’
‘So, even if you had a circuit break, you would still be cancelling games when you came back.
‘If I was running football… I would play on and cope with the fact you will have to cancel quite a few games in the next six weeks or so,’ said Prof Hunter.
‘[For a circuit break to work] you would have to have a break until [the wave of infection] has subsided in the country and I am assuming that will be by the end of January.’
And the idea of a deep clean of facilities to ‘break the chain’ would have little impact, said Prof Hunter.
Although helpful and good practice, ‘the vast majority of infection is spread by people talking to each other’, or at least being in the same room, he added.
Premier League managers have differed in their views to temporarily stop the season, after Brentford manager Frank came out announcing his club’s desire to announce a temporary stop.
The Danish manager claimed the variant is ‘running like wildfire’ around the world and that shutting down football for at least a week would help clubs get things under control.
Frank told a press conference on Thursday morning: ‘It would give everyone a week at least, or four or five days to clean and do everything at the training ground so everything is clean and you break the chain.
‘Also in football, you need close contact. Physios need to do their job with players in treatment. We are in dressing room on matchdays, we are travelling by coaches so it’s a little bit more difficult to work from home.’
Frank believes a decision to halt this weekend’s round of top-flight fixtures could be enough to sure the busy festive programme will be able to go ahead largely as planned.
‘We fully respect that we want to play and it is important football keeps going, and this way we can make sure Boxing Day keeps going, I’m 100 per cent sure of that,’ added Frank.
Brentford boss Thomas Frank wants this weekend’s Premier League games to be postponed
Brentford recorded 13 positive cases among players and club staff and their next game is off
Jurgen Klopp said on Thursday that stopping the Premier League is ‘not the right thing to do’
‘This Omicron variant is running like wildfire around the world and I think we need to do all we can to protect and avoid it. I think we can do a lot by closing down training grounds for three, four or five days, and then we can go again.’
Newcastle boss Eddie Howe, meanwhile, questioned whether it is fair for some teams to carry on playing while other teams cannot fulfil their games due to their respective outbreaks
‘I don’t think we want half the games played and half not played,’ Howe said. ‘The league really loses something if it becomes disjointed in terms of games played.
‘When you start losing players to Covid then the worry is the competition becomes slightly unfair and I don’t think anyone wants to see that.
Newcastle’s Eddie Howe has questioned whether playing half a round of fixtures is fair
‘A decision needs to be made to ensure integrity is maintained in the competition. I think it is on a knife edge.
‘People want to see a fair league and not disparity in games and players missing. I’m desperate to continue the programme myself but the welfare of the players and supporters has to come first.’
Meanwhile, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp announced after his side’s 3-1 victory over Newcastle on Thursday night – which saw Virgil van Dijk and Fabinho both miss the game due to Covid – that he sees no point of a ‘circuit breaker’ stop.
Klopp told his post-match press conference on Thursday: ‘Stopping the league is probably not the right thing but with the schedule we have to be more flexible. We have three players out because of Covid.
‘Then we play on the 26th and the 28th (of December) and you have 13 players available, that’s not possible. There are plenty of questions we need to find answers for but I don’t have the solution.’
Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish (above) believes the Premier League should carry on
Palace chairman Parish, meanwhile, believes the Premier League should play as many games as it possibly can as there have been not enough cancellations to enforce a ‘firebreaker’ – in his view.
‘We haven’t had the level of postponements to get a real pause,’ he told BBC Breakfast on Friday morning. ‘We would rather get the games over with that we can, while we still can.
‘I would be against that (a firebreaker) right now but we’ll see how things develop. Rules are put in place to fill the squad. There are many reason you can and can’t fill the squad.
‘We are all aware of the situation that is going on, we need to keep our players safe from catching Covid. Obviously it’s unfortunate, we’ve had situations with very key players out and have had to play. It’s the same with injuries.
Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta (above) has called on the Premier League to provide ‘more clarity’
‘It’s always difficult when you lose where you’re playing important games. But we need to get to get through as many fixtures as we can. And if teams have got a reasonable players to field, then we try and carry on as we can.’
Meanwhile, Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta – who was forced to field a weakened side for a defeat to Brentford in August after four players tested positive for the virus – called on the Premier League to provide more clarity on postponement regulations.
‘We need much more clarity on what you need to not play the game,’ Arteta said. ‘The most important thing is we’re able to maintain the fairness within the competition.
‘We’ve been here on the other side of the table where we had all the arguments in the world to not play a football match and we ended up playing it.’
The Bees have 13 cases among players and staff – the club are now calling for a circuit-breaker shutdown to help clubs recover. Their training ground has been closed and as a result their trip to Southampton on Saturday has been postponed.
Would have been without several players for Tottenham’s visit on Thursday due to Covid before the game was postponed – despite initial calls being rejected – hours before kick-off. Their training ground was closed on Thursday morning to contain the outbreak but given they have an insufficient number of players available, their weekend trip to Everton is also off.
Case numbers are currently unknown but a large outbreak saw their game with Brentford postponed. Calls to have Saturday’s game with Brighton to be postponed were accepted on Thursday, and it has emerged that United would have had only seven available players for that game such is the impact of the outbreak. Their training complex is closed until Tuesday at least, in order to reduce the risk of transmission.
Had a request for Wednesday’s game with Wolves to be postponed rejected by the Premier League following an outbreak at the club. Graham Potter confirmed there were ‘three to four’ positive cases before the game, which they lost 1-0. Saturday’s game with Manchester United has now been postponed.
Manager Dean Smith was facing an anxious wait to discover the full extent of the outbreak at the club. Josh Sargent, Lukas Rupp and Pierre Lees-Melou were absent from the squad that faced Aston Villa in midweek for ‘Covid-related’ reasons, but while Christos Tzolis is the only confirmed player to test positive, more positive test results have been returned. The Canaries had discussions with the Premier League over Saturday’s clash with West Ham and it was agreed to postpone as they have an insufficient number of players available.
Saw their midweek game with Burnley postponed just hours before kick-off. With their training ground closed, their home match with Crystal Palace has now been confirmed as postponed too. Case numbers are currently unknown but they do not sufficient players to fulfil the Palace match.
Spurs were the first Premier League club to be hit by the Omicron variant last week and saw games against Brighton and Rennes postponed after cases reached double digits among players and staff. Those who tested positive for the virus are expected to return in the next couple of days after completing their 10-day self-isolation period. Spurs’ clash with Leicester on Thursday was postponed despite initial demands to have the game called off were rejected, but Sunday’s clash with Liverpool is due to go ahead.
After Brentford, the Blues became the latest club to be hit by a Covid outbreak, after it was confirmed ahead of their game with Everton that four more first-team players had tested positive. Mateo Kovacic was the first Chelsea player to get the virus in the outbreak this week, with Romelu Lukaku, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Timo Werner and Ben Chilwell following. Neverthless, their game with Everton went ahead and was drawn. They are due to play Wolves on Sunday.
It was confirmed just an hour before kick-off against Newcastle on Thursday night that Fabinho, Curtis Jones and Virgil van Dijk were all out having tested positive for Covid. They won the game 3-1 and are due to play Tottenham on Sunday.
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