Man City, Newcastle illustrate Premier League’s COVID integrity problem

NEWCASTLE, UK – At the end of a week of uncertainty and confusion due to the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a few things never change: City of Manchester still at the top Premier League and Newcastle United Football Club still in the bottom three of the table and of course relegated after Pep Guardiola’s team 4-0 win at St James’ Park on Sunday.

However, life in the Premier League is anything but business as usual. Executives from 20 clubs will meet on Monday to discuss the COVID-19 crisis that is enveloping not only the top British team but the whole of the UK. According to the government’s medical and scientific advisers, a spike in positive cases over the past week is the start of what Prime Minister Boris Johnson warns there will be a tidal wave of infections due to the appearance of omicron variation.

Sources have told ESPN that the Premier League’s emergency measures to combat the outbreak of positive tests, recent postponement and a relatively low percentage of top flight players are vaccinated (68% as of October, the most recent data available, although sources say that number has improved little in the past year). two months since) are issues on the agenda, rather a vote on whether to suspend the fixture list after 10 COVID-19 related postponements since last Sunday or not.

Nothing worth discussing, so only time will tell if the often congested Christmas fixture list remains on the schedule or the Premier League will enter some kind of hibernation over the days and months. next week. Even as the game continues, Unconfirmed reports of impending government-imposed restrictions on social gatherings could lead to the Premier League once again being played under closed doors until the situation improves.

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The current picture of football remains unclear, and within that uncertainty is growing concern that the integrity of the league itself is being compromised by the worrying number of postponements that have contributed to the Premier League table looks disjointed.

Ahead of this match, Newcastle manager Eddie Howe has made clear his concerns about the tournament’s continuation in the face of so many disruptions to the roster. “I think the league really loses something when it becomes disjointed, when it loses something because of games not being played,” Howe said. “I think they’re both ahead or not, we can’t have half playing and half not.”

Newcastle have now played 18 games, but Burnley, one place ahead of them in the table, only played 15 because of the postponement – two because of COVID-19 and one because of the snow. City, meanwhile, have played and won two games in less than a week – scoring 11 goals in the process – to hold on to their title and escape the risk of a fixture bottleneck at the end of the season.

Meanwhile, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Leicester City and Brentford all had one or more games postponed due to COVID-19 in the past week, forcing them to play catch-up.

And then Chelsea, who drew the past two and dropped four points, after being forced to play without a number of senior players against Everton and Wolverhampton Wanderers because of the virus. Chelsea tried and failed when their trip to Wolves was postponed on Sunday – the match ended in a 0-0 draw – after recording seven positive tests, which means coaching Coach Thomas Tuchel could only bring in four substitutes at Molineux.

“We asked permission not to play and put the situation under control and it was denied,” he said. “I’m worried from a medical point of view, we’ve had four days of testing positive in a row. How will it stop if we take the same bus and go to meetings together? We’re frustrated, we’re a little angry.”

After the game, Tuchel added to his comment and thinks Wednesday’s Carabao Cup quarter-final against Brentford could be at risk.

“If we have tomorrow and the next test and the next positive, I’d like to talk to the Premier League about what to expect,” Tuchel said. “If they make us play against Brentford, we won’t come or train? What should we do?

“Everybody is allowed to have an opinion. We’ve got an opinion and the Premier League has an opinion. We agree to disagree.”

Liverpool were forced to face Tottenham on Sunday with four players ruled out due to COVID. One day before, Leeds United played – and lost 4-1 – first Arsenal on Saturday as they have 10 players unavailable due to injury and are therefore unable to request a postponement for non-COVID related absences. This nuance has resulted in injuries and illnesses being treated differently by the Premier League, where there is a law stating that matches must be played if a team has a full 14 players.

There is also speculation among clubs that some players are COVID-free, but are forced to quarantine for 10 days because they are unvaccinated, are counted as unavailable, despite being healthy, and are only disqualified. by personal choice not to be vaccinated. Some clubs have near 100% vaccination status in their squads, but others have not been as successful and sources say that will be a problem that could lead to problems. acrimonious agreement during a meeting of stakeholders on Monday.

Amidst so many problems, there is no easy way out of the current COVID situation, something Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp admitted before the team’s game against Tottenham.

“I think we have to fight to get through this, but next week if we lose another player and another player and then it’s impossible,” Klopp said. “No one can get over this. It’s really hard now, because [the players] yesterday can be in and then be positive. We talk about humans and I’m happy to play, but we need help. “

Most Premier League teams and managers have enough problems to deal with without the impossible task of trying to navigate a path through COVID-19. For Newcastle and Howe, each match is a big enough challenge in itself. They lost to Liverpool on Thursday and were beaten by Man City, so at least the games will be easier.

However, Sunday’s results were never in doubt once the Man City captain Ruben Dias put his team ahead after five minutes. Joao Cancelo’s further goals, Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling won comfortably and took City to 105 goals in 2021, surpassing their previous top goalscoring record of 104 in 1929.

As it stands, City have two more matches to add to that list before the end of 2021, but one thing Guardiola and his players cannot control is whether COVID-19 will allow matches. whether the match goes according to plan or not. Man City, Newcastle illustrate Premier League’s COVID integrity problem

Jake Nichol

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