The Premier League on Thursday postponed two more matches due to the worsening coronavirus pandemic but said it intended to “continue its current fixture schedule where safely possible” as calls for a circuit break intensified.
Manchester United’s weekend game against Brighton was called off shortly after Leicester’s scheduled match against Tottenham on Thursday was postponed — bringing the total to five top-flight fixtures scrapped in the past week.
Britain is battling record numbers of Covid-19 cases as the Omicron variant runs riot, with fears growing that the crisis could derail the football season.
“Regarding Manchester United’s game on Saturday, the club continues to have an ongoing Covid-19 outbreak within their squad, which has left them unable to field a team for the match at Old Trafford,” the Premier League said in a statement.
“A significant number of Covid-19 cases led to their game against Brentford FC being called off earlier this week, and today additional positive tests have been confirmed.”
United are believed to have had only seven senior players available because of Covid and other injuries for the Brighton game.
Leicester and the Premier League earlier confirmed the cancellation of Thursday’s game between the Foxes and Spurs, who have been badly hit by virus postponements.
“The club has an insufficient number of first-team players available to fulfil the match,” Leicester said in a statement.
– Covid break? –
Brentford manager Thomas Frank said he would like to see a break to help manage the situation across the Premier League.
His team’s fixture against United, scheduled to take place on Tuesday, was postponed and the club now has their own Covid infections to tackle.
“We think we should postpone the full round of Premier League games this weekend,” he said.
“Covid cases are going through the roof at all Premier League clubs. Everyone is dealing with it and having problems.
“To postpone this round and also the Carabao (League) Cup round would give everyone a week at least, or four or five days to clean and do everything at the training ground so everything is clean and you break the chain.”
But the Premier League said it planned to press ahead with its schedule as the busy festive season approaches.
“While recognising a number of clubs are experiencing Covid-19 outbreaks, it is the league’s intention to continue its current fixture schedule where safely possible,” it said in a statement.
“The health and wellbeing of all concerned remain our priority.”
It added: “The (Premier League) board assesses applications to postpone matches on a case-by-case basis, based on existing rules and Covid-19 postponement guidance issued to all clubs.
“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.”
Thursday’s game between Chelsea and Everton and Liverpool’s match against Newcastle are both still scheduled to go ahead.
However, there were reports on Thursday that Chelsea had three more players test positive after Mateo Kovacic caught the virus last week.
The number of postponed weekend matches across England’s top four divisions reached double figures on Thursday, with the English Football League announcing stricter Covid protocols including increased testing.
The EFL, which runs the second, third and fourth-tiers, said it was encouraging all eligible players and staff to get fully vaccinated and also book a booster jab to “help protect colleagues and minimise the risk of fixtures being postponed”.
November’s figures showed 75 percent of players across the EFL had been either fully vaccinated, had a single jab or intended to be vaccinated.
The total of double-vaccinated players was just 59 percent.