COVID-19: Premier League fighting to keep fixture list alive as Manchester United vs. Brighton is postponed

The Premier League is fighting to keep its fixture list in place as initially planned after calling off its fifth fixture in as many days.

Manchester United’s home game against Brighton has been suspended after the league board reached the conclusion that the Red Devils would be unable to field a team as they battle the COVID-19 outbreak that caused Tuesday’s game against Brentford to be scrubbed off the fixture list.

With the Premier League also postponing Tottenham’s trip to Leicester City hours before kickoff, it increasingly seems that they are fighting a losing battle to keep the show on the road amid a tidal wave of COVID-19 cases in football and across the United Kingdom. Brentford head coach Thomas Frank has already called for games to be postponed until Dec. 26 while senior health officials have advised fans not to attend games.

In a statement, the league said: “It is with regret that this is the fourth Premier League fixture to have been postponed in the past week [Tottenham’s visit to Brighton on Sunday was also postponed].

“While recognizing a number of clubs are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks, it is the league’s intention to continue its current fixture schedule where safely possible. The health and wellbeing of all concerned remains our priority.”

United have closed their Carrington training ground “for a short period.”

Saturday’s match is the first weekend fixture to be postponed by the Premier League and it may not be the last. Southampton’s fixture against Brentford is under particular doubt with 13 cases in the latter’s camp. Chelsea are still expected to face Everton on Thursday night, but were waiting on further tests conducted on their squad today after several positives within the first team. 

The Premier League added: “The 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. The Board must also consider the wider risks to the opposition and other people the club may come into contact with.

“In light of the recent rise in COVID-19 cases across the country, the Premier League has reintroduced Emergency Measures. These include protocols such as more frequent testing, wearing face coverings while indoors, observing social distancing and limiting treatment time.”

Meanwhile, as of Thursday, nine EFL matches across the Championship and Leagues One and Two have been called off. The lower tiers of English football have moved to enhanced RED protocols that will include daily testing, following the steps taken by the Premier League earlier this week, with the EFL confirming that where 14 players including a goalkeeper are available fixtures should go ahead.

The scale of the potential threat to the league was revealed in the EFL’s statement, which stated that as of last month 25 percent of players in their three divisions did not intend to get vaccinated against COVID-19. It said that 59 percent of players were double vaccinated with the remaining 16 percent intending to receive the vaccine. Many Premier League clubs have faced similar challenges convincing their players to get the jab though in October the clubs revealed that 68 percent of their players had received both doses and 81 percent one. 

“Alongside enhanced protocols which includes mandatory testing ahead of matchdays, the EFL continues to strongly encourage players and staff at Clubs to get fully vaccinated and obtain a booster jab if eligible to do so,” said EFL medical adviser Dr. Richard Higgins.

“We know that getting double jabbed and boosted now will reduce the risk of getting seriously ill or dying from COVID-19, reduce the risk of catching or spreading COVID-19 amongst team-mates and loved ones, while helping protect against COVID-19 variants including Omicron.”

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