Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Premier League has ‘no plans’ to pause season as virus wreaks fresh havoc

There has been a season-high 18 positive tests in the Premier League's latest round of testing across the competition, already compressed due to the late start to the season.

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The Premier League said on Wednesday it had “no plans” to pause the season and had confidence in its protocols after a third English top-flight match was postponed due to coronavirus outbreaks.

Tottenham’s home match against Fulham was scrapped just three hours before the scheduled kick-off after a number of Covid-19 cases at the visiting club.

It is the third top-flight game to be wiped out by the virus, following Newcastle’s match with Aston Villa earlier this month and Monday’s game between Everton and Manchester City.

The Premier League announced on Tuesday there had been a season-high 18 positive tests in its latest round of testing across the competition, already compressed due to the late start to the season.

Britain is struggling with another surge in the virus, with an overall death toll of more than 72,500 – one of the worst in the world.

But league chiefs issued a statement late Wednesday expressing their determination to fulfil their fixtures.

“The Premier League has not discussed pausing the season and has no plans to do so,” it said.

“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.”

Further down the English football pyramid, postponements are mounting, with seven of the 12 games scheduled for Tuesday in the third-tier League One called off due to coronavirus infections.

After Manchester City’s trip to Everton on Monday was postponed due to a Covid outbreak in Pep Guardiola’s squad, all five matches scheduled for Tuesday went ahead.

But Scott Parker’s Fulham asked for their game at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium to be called off, which the Premier League board sanctioned on Wednesday.

Mourinho frustration

It is understood Spurs are unhappy about the decision and the timing of it.

There had been speculation throughout the day that the game might be called off and manager Jose Mourinho indicated his frustration in an Instagram post shortly after 1400 GMT.

Mourinho posted a video on his account of his staff waiting for news with a message which read: “We still don’t know if we play. Best league in the world.”

The Premier League confirmed the decision to postpone the game was taken following a meeting on Wednesday.

“Fulham lodged a request with the Premier League board to rearrange the fixture following a significant rise in positive Covid-19 cases, as well as a number of players showing symptoms today,” it said.

Press reports said representatives of some Premier League clubs had discussed a two-week “cooling off” period next month, and West Brom boss Sam Allardyce backed the so-called “circuit-breaker”.

But Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti said he had confidence in the rules in place.

“I think the protocol the Premier League put in place is really good,” he said. “We feel safe in our bubble. But outside, I have to pay attention, like all the normal people have to pay attention.”

League officials are desperate to avoid suspending the season with broadcast contracts to honour and the postponed European Championship looming in June.

Manchester City were due to return to training on Wednesday after no new positive cases of coronavirus were reported following the latest round of testing.

More tests will take place later in the week, the results of which will determine whether Sunday’s trip to Chelsea and next week’s League Cup semi-final at Manchester United can go ahead.

Premier League leaders Liverpool were in action at Newcastle’s in Wednesday’s late match.

Sports fans will be barred across England after the government placed almost the entire country under tougher restrictions.

Until the rules were tightened, 10 clubs in the Premier League and English Football League, including Liverpool and Everton, had been able to admit supporters.

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