The Premier League has announced it has ‘no plans’ to pause the season despite calls from a number of clubs to introduce a two-week ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Following the postponement of Tottenham’s game against Fulham just hours before kick-off on Wednesday evening, the top flight said it had ‘full confidence in its COVID-19 protocols despite chaos of outbreaks at clubs up and down the country.
Tonight’s game is the third in the Premier League to postponed in recent weeks amid fears that English football could be halted, but officials reiterated that such a move was not on their agenda.
Premier League chiefs are determined to press on with fixtures despite calls to introduce a two-week ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown days after Man City’s clash with Everton was called off
The Premier League’s statement read: ‘The Premier League has not discussed pausing the season and has no plans to do so.
‘The League continues to have confidence in its COVID-19 protocols to enable fixtures to be played as scheduled, and these protocols continue to have the full backing of Government.
‘With the health of players and staff the priority, the League is also fully supportive of how clubs are implementing the protocols and rules.’
Tottenham’s clash with Fulham being postponed heightened fears the season could be halted
A number of clubs have suffered outbreaks within their bubbles which is causing chaos within the league with fears that a spike in positive cases could see the issue spiral out of control.
Two matches – Everton against Manchester City and Newcastle v Aston Villa – have already been postponed this month.
However, with teams already facing a jam-packed fixture list, the option to postpone and rearrange two weeks worth of games will prove to be extremely difficult ahead of this summer’s rearranged Euro 2020.
Premier League bosses have no intention of suspending the season, despite announcing on Tuesday that a record number of positive tests were returned, with 18 detected in the week between Monday, December 21 and Sunday, December 27.
It is the highest number of positive outcomes in the league since Project Restart. The previous highest was when 16 tested positive in November.
As revealed by Sportsmail, the Government has held talks with football authorities amid the increasing number of positive tests as a new strain of the virus sweeps the country.
Government officials offered Premier League clubs reassurance that football in the top flight would be able to continue, given their constant testing of players and staff, while the success of Project Restart helped prove the action can continue in a safe enough manner.
The option to halt the season for a fortnight would cause an almighty fixture pile-up in what is already a jam-packed schedule as a result of the pandemic
However, talk of a break in the schedule comes after at least five Manchester City players tested positive for the virus, forcing the postponement of their trip to Everton earlier this week and leaving Sunday’s game with Chelsea in jeopardy.
There was however some good news for City after the club confirmed that they had returned to training and had suffered no new positive tests.
There were concerns that Sheffield United’s game with Burnely would have to be postponed after an outbreak among the Blades’ first team set up, but the match went ahead as scheduled on Tuesday evening.
Gary Neville believes a two-week shutdown of the Premier League would achieve little amid a spike in positive coronavirus cases inside top-flight clubs
If the number of positives has increased, it will only strengthen calls for the season to be suspended, causing a significant pile-up of fixtures for City and other clubs well into the new year.
Gary Neville believes a two-week shutdown to curb a spike in positive Covid-19 cases among players and coaches wouldn’t solve the issue – and Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is of the same opinion.
Responding to Sam Allardyce’s comments in favour of a two-week pause, Neville tweeted that football shouldn’t stop and that football has proven it can continue in a safe manner
West Brom manager Sam Allardyce spoke in favour of a fortnight’s pause to try and stop the spread of the virus after 18 positive cases in the top-flight but Sky Sports pundit Neville disagrees.
Neville tweeted: ‘Football has proven through the last 6 months it can operate safely. It was right to be cautious and concerned through the first lockdown when the virus was new and unknown.
‘It shouldn’t stop now in my opinion. This virus isn’t going anywhere in 2-4 weeks!!’
Informal talks about a two-week ‘circuit-breaker’ pause in the Premier League season have been held but Solskjaer is concerned about the knock-on effects.
‘It’s not something I’ve thought about a lot. I think our players have been really good in following protocols and rules,’ Solskjaer said after United’s 1-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ‘can’t see the benefit’ of pausing the Premier League for two weeks as a ‘circuit breaker’ following a spike in positive Covid-19 cases among players and staff
‘That’s part of the job here, that we as clubs follow the protocols given. I can’t see the benefit in having a circuit break, whatever it’s going to be called.
‘Because when are we going to play the games? We all know this year is so difficult, but I don’t think stopping the games is going to make a big, big change.’
However, the two-week shutdown received the backing of Baggies’ new boss Allardyce.
‘Everyone’s safety is more important than anything else,’ he said. ‘When I listen to the news the variant virus transmits quicker than the original virus [so] we can only do the right thing which is have a circuit break.
‘I am 66 years old and the last thing I want to do is catch Covid. I’m very concerned for myself and football in general.
West Brom boss Sam Allardyce is in favour of a two-week ‘circuit-breaker’ in English football
‘If that’s what needs to be done we need to do it. We had one positive this week and it seems to be creeping around no matter how hard we try.’
Meanwhile, a row is brewing over the postponement of City’s game at Goodison Park on Monday – the second Premier League fixture to be called off because of Covid this season.
Everton reportedly ‘feel disrespected’ by City and the Premier League after they were left out of the consultation process that led to the match being called off just five hours before kick-off.
They have demanded ‘full disclosure’ of the information that led to the decision with The Athletic reporting that Everton were given no say in the matter.
Premier League rules specify that a fixture should take place if the two teams can call on at least 14 players from their squad list.
A increase in cases, including an outbreak at Man City, has seen concerns grow around playing
City stars Kyle Walker and Gabriel Jesus have tested positive as well as three unnamed players
But Monday night’s match was postponed because of fears the new strain of the virus could be spread among players and officials if it had gone ahead. Everton were expecting 2,000 spectators at the match.
City players Kyle Walker and Gabriel Jesus were already self-isolating before three further unnamed players returned positive results in the hours before the Everton match.
Players underwent the first of three tests in the car park of City’s Football Academy on Tuesday with additional tests on Wednesday.
The full extent of the outbreak has now become clear with further rounds of testing planned ahead of Sunday’s trip to Chelsea.
The game at Stamford Bridge remains in severe doubt with any postponement intensifying a logistical nightmare for City amid an already congested fixture schedule in 2021.
Guardiola’s side are already two matches behind some top-flight teams and will compete in the FA Cup, Carabao Cup and Champions League in the new year.
There have also been a number of positive cases in the Sheffield United camp in recent weeks
The City outbreak started in a similar fashion to that at Newcastle United earlier this month with two players initially contracting the virus.
But those numbers at Newcastle soon soared well into double figures after the same re-testing process that City have embarked on revealed more cases.
Sources at City fear the mutant variant of Covid-19 the players are believed to have contracted in London ahead of their Carabao Cup quarter-final with Arsenal last week is more virulent than the original strain.
Covid has also taken a firm grip further down the pyramid with seven of 12 scheduled matches in League One on Tuesday night postponed.