Premier League resists calls to suspend weekend games despite coronavirus issues

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The Premier League resisted calls to suspend all matches this weekend after postponing five fixtures due to coronavirus outbreaks.

Manchester United’s match against Brighton on Saturday was the first to be called off due to Covid-19 issues before a further four games followed suit.

Southampton’s game with Brentford, Crystal Palace’s visit to Watford, West Ham’s clash with Norwich, and Sunday’s meeting between Everton and Leicester at Goodison Park also need to be rearranged.

Thursday saw a raft of postponements across England’s top four divisions amid the increased transmission rate of the Omicron variant.

Yet the Premier League opted against a complete break in action, with games at Aston Villa, Leeds, Wolves, Newcastle and Tottenham still scheduled to go ahead.

“The League understands fans will be disappointed these matches have had to be postponed and apologises for the inconvenience and disruption caused,” read a Premier League statement.

“All other fixtures due to be played this weekend are currently scheduled to proceed as planned.”

Manchester United are understood to have had only nine players available because of Covid and other injuries for Tuesday’s game against Brentford, which was called off late on Monday night.

That figure dropped to just seven for the Saturday lunchtime match against Brighton at Old Trafford.

The other four postponements were the result of outbreaks at Brentford, Watford, Norwich and Leicester.

On Thursday morning, Bees manager Thomas Frank called for all of the weekend’s top-flight matches to be rescheduled.

The Premier League stressed that its board would evaluate applications for postponement on a “case-by-case basis”.

“It will 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,” read the statement.

“The board must also consider the wider risks to the opposition and other people the club representatives may come into contact with.”

Emergency measures, including more frequent testing, wearing face coverings while indoors, observing social distancing, and limiting treatment time, have been reintroduced.

The weekend disruption follows three previous Premier League postponements during the past five days.

Tottenham’s trip to Brighton on Sunday was the first to be called off, followed by Brentford and Manchester United on Tuesday and then Burnley versus Watford on Wednesday evening.

Furthermore, Brighton boss Graham Potter revealed the Premier League had turned down a request from his club for Wednesday evening’s clash with Wolves – a 1-0 loss – to be postponed.

A number of games in the EFL have also been called off, and it announced on Thursday afternoon it had moved to implement a regime of “enhanced training ground protocols” which include increased testing and also provided updated guidance on the minimum number of available players that are required to fulfil a
fixture.

All clubs must now establish the red protocols for first team-training settings, which means players and staff must take a lateral flow test on the day before a game, while social distancing measures will be required outside of physical sessions, along with restrictions to the use of indoor facilities,
manual therapy and group travel.

Any person who returns a positive lateral flow test will then be required to take a PCR test and isolate, in line with Government guidance.

Clubs will be expected to play where there are 14 players, including a goalkeeper, available from the registered squad list. Under-21 players who are not on the squad list, but have played one league match, or any other contracted player not on the squad list “but otherwise would have been eligible to play” will also be included in the considerations.

The EFL also said it is encouraging all eligible players and staff to get fully vaccinated and book a booster jab to “help protect colleagues and minimise the risk of fixtures being postponed”.

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