The Premier League has decided against postponing a full round of fixtures amid Covid-19 outbreaks at several clubs.
Six of this weekend’s 10 Premier League matches were postponed on Thursday, but the league had maintained fixtures would continue “where safely possible”.
After a Premier League shareholders’ meeting on Monday, the league has decided to continue as planned with the schedule, where possible, while it was later confirmed a record-high 90 positive Covid cases had been recorded among league players and staff in the past week.
Meanwhile, the FA has scrapped third and fourth-round FA Cup replays this season to help reduce fixture congestion.
Premier League confirms vaccination rate
The Premier League also confirmed on Monday that 92 per cent of players and club staff have received one, two or three Covid vaccination doses, adding 84 per cent of players are “on the vaccination journey”.
“The league continues to work with clubs to encourage vaccination among players and club staff, as well as promoting the Government’s public health vaccination messaging to clubs and the wider public,” the statement added.
A total of 77 per cent of Premier League players have received two doses, which is classed as fully vaccinated, an increase from 68 per cent in October when figures were last released.
Inside the Premier League’s Covid meeting
Three options were discussed at Monday’s meeting:
- Option 1: Carry on playing
- Option 2: Postpone whole round of upcoming Sun-Mon fixtures or next week’s Tues-Thurs fixtures
- Option 3: Stop playing
The majority of clubs favoured ‘Option 1’, to carry on playing where it is safe to do so, while a few clubs including Liverpool were in favour of ‘Option 2’ – they argued it would be unfair to ask players to play three games next week between Boxing Day and January 2.
No clubs wanted to stop playing.
The meeting also discussed rising vaccination rates among players and what could be done to manage players who were refusing to be vaccinated. Some 77 per cent of PL players are now fully vaccinated – up from 68 per cent in October.
Concerns were also raised about the late postponement of games. The Premier League has asked clubs to update them daily on the results of their players’ Covid tests and they hope this measure will go some way to minimising the number of games which are postponed at the last minute.
Aston Villa’s clash with Burnley was called off just over two hours before kick-off on Saturday.
Chelsea were unhappy a request to postpone Sunday’s Premier League match at Wolves, which ended 0-0, was rejected despite their seven positive cases.
Boss Thomas Tuchel said: “We were put in a huge risk of health and safety to the players, not just because of Covid but also physically. I’m not sure if I’ll catch Covid. Hopefully, I will not catch it.”
No vote was taken at the meeting.
EFL schedule to continue – including Carabao Cup
The EFL has confirmed its schedule of games in the league and Carabao Cup will continue to be played “where it is safe to do so”.
EFL chief executive Trevor Birch said: “Throughout the pandemic, our two priorities have been ensuring the welfare of those involved in EFL competitions and ensuring the fixture schedule can continue where it is safe to do so.
“We will continue to work with clubs, authorities and other agencies to monitor the Covid-19 case rate and be prepared to respond accordingly, yet for now the view remains that we can continue to deliver games safely where clubs have sufficient healthy personnel in place, on and off the pitch.
“With club mitigation measures, the mass adoption of booster jabs and Covid certification now required for larger crowds, we are sure many fans will continue to feel confident in attending matches over the Christmas period and we look forward to welcoming them.”
There are four Carabao Cup quarter-final ties taking place in midweek.
Analysis: Premier League say ‘Keep calm and carry on’
Sky Sports News’ Kaveh Solhekol:
“The Premier League clubs have decided to keep calm and carry on. The message we are getting is clubs want to carry on playing.
“It’s what we were expecting them to do. The last thing they want to do is stop football, especially over the Christmas period when there are so many games. Nearly every Premier League club is going to play three games between Boxing Day and January 2.
“The feeling is, if it’s safe to play games we should carry on playing games.
“One very senior executive at a Premier League club said to me: ‘If people are working in supermarkets, driving buses and going to work as normal, then footballers should go to work as well’.
“Footballers are human beings and health and safety is the priority. The extra workload on these players was discussed in the meeting and they’re having to work in extremely difficult conditions. We shouldn’t make light of the pressure and stress these players are under.
“The Football Association are trying to help out as well because they’re considering, just for this season, scrapping third and fourth-round replays in the FA Cup to help with fixture congestion.
“We’ve heard from a lot of managers such as Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel, saying their players cannot cope with the amount of games coming up, especially if a lot of their colleagues are going to be sidelined because of COVID.
“So those games coming up at the beginning of January will be settled on the day.”
What are the Premier League rules around postponements?
The 2021/22 Premier League handbook includes Covid protocols, and states the Premier League board will “only permit the rearrangement or postponement of a league match in exceptional circumstances”.
The board make calls on a case-by-case basis, and by way of guidance the Premier League says permission for a postponement will not be granted if a club have 14 or more players from their squad list available.
In a statement, the Premier League added it would “assess a number of factors, including the ability of a club to field a team; the status, severity and potential impact of the Covid-19 outbreak at the club; and the ability of the players to safely prepare for and play the match.
“The board must also consider the wider risks to the opposition and other people the club may come into contact with.”
Which Premier League games have been called off?
Brighton vs Tottenham – Sunday December 12, Premier League
Brentford vs Man Utd – Tuesday December 14, Premier League
Burnley vs Watford – Wednesday December 15, Premier League
Leicester vs Tottenham – Thursday December 16, Premier League
Man Utd vs Brighton – Saturday December 18, Premier League
Southampton vs Brentford – Saturday December 18, Premier League
Watford vs Crystal Palace – Saturday December 18, Premier League
West Ham vs Norwich – Saturday December 18, Premier League
Aston Villa vs Burnley – Saturday December 18, Premier League
Everton vs Leicester – Sunday December 19, Premier League
When could postponed games take place?
Tottenham, whose game at Burnley at the end of November was also postponed due to the weather, now have three games to shoehorn into their schedule.
Chelsea, currently not directly impacted by any Covid suspensions despite wanting the Wolves match to be postponed, have their own fixture pile-up to contend with due to their participation in the Club World Cup.
Chelsea could go nearly a month without playing a Premier League fixture due to the tournament in the UAE between February 3-12. Chelsea’s trip to Brighton on February 8 and the home clash with Arsenal on February 12 are set to be re-arranged, with the fixtures having to be played later in the season.