Premier League sticking with winter break plans as Burnley vs Watford becomes 22nd match postponed

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Premier League sticking with winter break plans as Burnley vs Watford becomes 22nd match postponed
Premier League sticking with winter break plans as Burnley vs Watford becomes 22nd match postponed

The Premier League still intends to preserve English football’s “winter break” this month despite the logistical nightmare of 22 postponed matches already this season after Burnley became the latest club to have a postponement request accepted on Monday.

Manager Sean Dyche revealed that only 10 senior players trained for Tuesday’s match, which had already been rescheduled following Watford’s original request to call off the game on Dec 15.

The postponement is the sixth involving Burnley this season, albeit only the second that they had requested under the Premier League’s Covid-19 rules after Saturday’s fixture against Leicester City was also called off. The Premier League is working with clubs, broadcasters and local safety authorities to get matches back on as quickly as possible but, in a World Cup year, they are still trying to maintain a near two-week window of potential rest for English players between Jan 24 and Feb 4.

This period of the season has been ring-fenced by Fifa for international matches, but the European nations have not scheduled fixtures, meaning top-flight squads would largely only be depleted by losing international players from South America or Africa. It has led to discussion as to whether a request could be made for Fifa to play postponed club matches in this window, but it is understood this is not part of the Premier League’s planning.

Much more likely is the Uefa midweek dates for Champions League and Europa League fixtures from mid-February, with European football’s governing body having indicated it will be flexible in the wider context of the pandemic. The FA Cup fourth-round weekend could also present an opportunity for a small number of outstanding fixtures between clubs who were eliminated in the third round, such as Aston Villa, Burnley or Watford, although the FA has already compromised by cancelling third and fourth-round replays.

With successive England managers having stressed the importance of a mid-season break, the FA will be especially keen in this World Cup year for players to keep their short chance to recharge. The hope that the situation will now ease was also bolstered on Monday when the Premier League announced only 33 Covid-19 cases over the past week, the lowest since the week of Dec 5.

Like many other clubs, Burnley are suffering from a combination of injuries and Covid-19 cases. They also have Maxwel Cornet playing at the Africa Cup of Nations for the Ivory Coast.

“We’re actually slightly worse off than we were for the game that was called off [against Leicester] because Charlie Taylor has taken a knock,” said manager Sean Dyche. “We put the application in in good faith. We’ve worked really hard to get games on when we’ve been stretched, but we’ve just gone too far below the threshold. It’s just an improbable situation.”

Burnley, who are bottom of the Premier League, have played only 17 matches, the fewest in the league, and are five matches behind some clubs. Dyche, though, said: “Do I believe the players can do that scenario if they have to play games back to back? Yes. Is it a perfect scenario? No. But the challenge will be there.”

Meanwhile, Manchester City have scrapped plans for a warm-weather training camp in Abu Dhabi. The Premier League champions have a two-week break after Saturday’s match at Southampton, not playing again until Feb 5, against Fulham in the FA Cup fourth round. But concerns around Covid-19, potential travel restrictions, testing and local isolation rules have led City to cancel their plans.

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