Premier League clubs have agreed on new postponement guidance that says teams will have to show four positive COVID-19 cases in order to apply to have a match called off.
The guidance change comes after a series of controversial decisions to call off matches, with clubs using a combination of coronavirus, injuries, suspensions and players on international duty to postpone games.
There have been 22 match postponements due to coronavirus and other factors in the Premier League this season.
The last match to be called off was Arsenal’s controversial postponement against Spurs, which drew criticism from their north London rivals.
It was announced on Monday that the number of positive Covid-19 cases in the Premier League had fallen for the fourth week in a row.
In the seven days up to and including January 23, there were just 16 new cases among players and staff, from 6,221 tests – the lowest number of positives in a week since December 5.
The new guidance will come into effect ahead of the next Premier League fixture on Saturday, February 5 when Burnley host Watford.
It was also announced on Monday that fans will no longer need to show Covid passports when attending Premier League matched.
A Premier League statement said: “In line with the latest Government guidance, COVID passes will no longer be enforced as a condition of entry to a Premier League match. The Premier League and clubs will continue to urge fans to follow public health guidance to keep each other safe on a matchday, including wearing face coverings when indoors or in crowded areas.”
Analysis: Change in guidance, not rules
Sky Sports News’ Rob Dorsett:
“This is a change to the guidance around match postponements, not a change in the rules.
“The rules still apply that if clubs have 13 outfield players and a goalkeeper fit and available, the game should go ahead. We understand there was some reluctance from clubs to change the rules mid-season.
“Sky Sports News has been told the new guidance is there to help steer the discretion displayed by the Premier League board, when they receive an application for postponement, and to discourage clubs from applying for postponements on the basis of non-Covid-related absences.
“In essence, Wednesday’s decision has raised the bar in terms of the number of Covid cases required to get a match postponed. Before now, a single positive Covid case in a squad was justification for applying for a postponement (if other players were absent because of injury or international duty).
“Now, a club must prove a minimum of four positive Covid cases within the first-team squad to even apply.
“Each application for postponement will still be assessed on its individual circumstances.
“The clubs chose not to change the Covid protocols around stadiums and training grounds, which are still under ’emergency measures’. That means Premier League players will be still tested daily and remain in secure bubbles.
“This will be reviewed on a weekly basis.
“It’s expected these measures will be relaxed somewhat after any impact is assessed from players returning to their clubs after AFCON, and holidays taken by other players during the current winter break.”
Neville and Carragher critical of postponements
Earlier this month, Premier League defenders Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher were both in agreement that England’s top clubs must stop using coronavirus as an excuse to postpone games.
“I honestly believe that all teams, not just in the Premier League but the EFL now, must be made to play their fixtures,” said Neville.
“If it was purely down to Covid in extraordinary circumstances where there was 10 or 15 players out, but we’re now talking about teams for the last few weeks where there’s no doubt they’ve been calling games off based upon whether they think they’ve got the best squad or team to win a game. It’s got to stop.
“Manchester United and other teams have got 30 to 40 players in their squad – I’m not having they can’t get 13 to 16 players together.
“It has to stop now this and we have to make teams play.”
Carragher said: “No other league in Europe is doing this, certainly not in those big leagues. Bayern Munich played a 16-year-old in their last game and that tells you exactly where they are. Why can’t we do that? Why can’t the young players be given an opportunity in these circumstances?
“Everyone’s in the same boat and I’m exactly with Gary. If it’s an outbreak of Covid and it’s decimated the squad I can understand that, but players being in the AFCON tournament and just normal injuries, that’s got nothing to do with it.
“You’ve got U23 squads and younger players, and this is an opportunity where they can get a chance.
“I know there’s a lot riding on Premier League games but at this moment there’s no doubt teams up and down this country are taking advantage of the situation.”
Tuchel and Hasenhuttl speak out on Covid rules
Asked if he felt Covid rules were being abused earlier this month, Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel said: “I strongly, strongly hope that’s not the case, otherwise I would be very angry.
“We are doing everything to make games happen and we were made to play when we thought maybe we should not. So, I can only strongly hope the rules are the same for everybody.”
Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl was also strong on the lack of transparency for postponements and how the Premier League is dealing with it.
Earlier this month, he said: “They’ve opened the door, and you cannot be surprised that someone is walking through now. I cannot say anything about the Covid situation there because this is normally the reason why you cancel games.
“You have no view, no transparency, and you cannot say anything about that. The rest is speculation.
“The Premier League has to handle this. This is why I say that players/new signings shouldn’t be allowed to play in cancelled games when they haven’t been there before this game was due to play. This is a problem they have and it’s hard to solve it at the moment.”
Which Premier League games have been called off?
Brighton vs Tottenham – Sunday December 12, Premier League (due to snow)
Brentford vs Man Utd – Tuesday December 14, Premier League (replayed on January 19)
Burnley vs Watford – Wednesday December 15, Premier League (postponed twice – now February 5 at 6pm)
Leicester vs Tottenham – Thursday December 16, Premier League (replayed on January 19)
Man Utd vs Brighton – Saturday December 18, Premier League
Southampton vs Brentford – Saturday December 18, Premier League (replayed on January 11)
Watford vs Crystal Palace – Saturday December 18, Premier League
West Ham vs Norwich – Saturday December 18, Premier League (replayed on January 12)
Aston Villa vs Burnley – Saturday December 18, Premier League
Everton vs Leicester – Sunday December 19, Premier League (postponed twice)
Liverpool vs Leeds – Sunday December 26, Premier League
Wolves vs Watford – Sunday December 26, Premier League
Burnley vs Everton – Sunday December 26, Premier League
Leeds vs Aston Villa – Tuesday December 28, Premier League
Arsenal vs Wolves – Tuesday December 28, Premier League
Everton vs Newcastle – Thursday December 30, Premier League
Leicester vs Norwich – Saturday January 1, Premier League
Southampton vs Newcastle – Sunday January 2, Premier League
Burnley vs Leicester – Saturday January 15, Premier League
Tottenham vs Arsenal – Sunday January 16, Premier League
Burnley vs Watford – Tuesday January 18, Premier League