English football battles on with reduced fixture list amid coronavirus crisis

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The coronavirus crisis has wreaked havoc with this weekend’s English football fixtures as just over half the games in the top four divisions have been postponed.

Five of this weekend’s 10 scheduled Premier League matches and 19 English Football League fixtures have been called off due to positive Covid-19 tests.

Premier League managers will meet on Monday to discuss the Covid crisis engulfing the competition, with Newcastle boss Eddie Howe saying the top flight’s integrity is “on a knife edge”.

Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard revealed a meeting was being organised by the league early next week to tackle “concerns and unanswered questions”, in particular around the criteria used by the Premier League board to grant approval to a postponement.

Magpies manager Howe is worried the incomplete fixture list makes the league “disjointed” and fears if more games are called off in the coming days, there could be questions around the competition’s integrity.

“The league really loses something if it becomes disjointed in terms of games played,” Howe said. “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.

“A decision needs to be made to ensure integrity is maintained in the competition. I think it is on a knife edge.”

Eddie Howe said the Premier League's integrity was on a knife edge following a spate of postponements
Eddie Howe said the Premier League’s integrity was on a knife edge following a spate of postponements (Richard Sellers/PA)

Howe’s side are due to face reigning champions Manchester City on Sunday.

City boss Pep Guardiola has been cleared to travel with his team after testing negative for Covid. He had to cancel his pre-match press conference earlier on Friday after returning an inconclusive result which necessitated a follow-up PCR test.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is not against calling a brief halt to the Premier League amid mounting Covid cases but said: “I just don’t see 100 per cent the benefit of it.

“Stopping the league means we stop now for one to two weeks, it means (missing) five to six games. So when do you want to play them?”

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola missed a press conference on Friday after returning an inconclusive Covid-19 test
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola missed a press conference on Friday after returning an inconclusive Covid-19 test (Martin Rickett/PA)

The rules governing Covid-19 postponements were voted on by the clubs and are set out in Appendix 17 of the Premier League’s 2021-22 handbook.

Each decision is taken on a case-by-case basis, but clubs are guided that if 14 or more players are available then permission will not be granted to postpone.

Clubs will be expected to utilise under-21 players with suitable experience in the Premier League, the EFL or overseas.

However the board does also consider medical advice from clubs on whether it is deemed to be an uncontrollable outbreak, in which case it is seen as unsafe to bring players together.

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