One of the most shocking things about last year for soccer fans was the weeks we had to spend without our favorite sport. The seemingly unstoppable spread of the novel coronavirus has caused sports to stop in its tracks, with the only football results we got to see being those from the Belarus Premier League. Today, history seems to be repeating itself: a number of Premier League games were postponed due to several players and staff at several British clubs testing positive for the virus. All this while the case numbers are once again spiking in the UK.
The normal operation of English soccer is once again under threat – some even say that the Premier League might be suspended once again. The situation is dire – this is why managers in the Premier League have decided to convene on Monday to discuss the COVID crisis engulfing the league.
Positive COVID tests have already led to the postponing of five of this weekend’s 10 scheduled games in the UK, including Manchester United vs Brighton, West Ham United vs Norwich City, and Everton vs Leicester. Championship matches couldn’t avoid the same fate, with five fixtures in the tournament postponed. Several Premier League managers have concerns and questions about the criteria the Premier League uses to grant approval to postpone a fixture.
These postponements are decided on a case-by-case basis, with clubs that have 14 players available denied permission to postpone a match, and when they are short on senior players, they are guided to use U-21 players with relevant EPL or international experience.
Integrity under threat?
Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe has expressed his concerns about the incomplete roster of fixtures that could leave the league jumbled, and if more games are canceled in the coming days, it could threaten the league’s integrity. “The league really loses something if it becomes disjointed in terms of games played,” he said. “When you start losing players to Covid then the worry is the competition becomes slightly unfair and I don’t think anyone wants to see that. A decision needs to be made to ensure integrity is maintained in the competition. I think it is on a knife-edge.”
The opinions differ
Jurgen Klopp, the manager of Premier League second-placed club Liverpool, would not be against a short break – but he’s asking when the games would be played. Because they have to be played eventually. “Stopping the league means we stop now for one to two weeks, it means five to six games. So when do you want to play them?” Several other managers are calling for clarity when it comes to the criteria for postponing the games. “We have been here on the other side of the table,” Mikel Arteta said, “where we had all the arguments in the world to not play a football match and we ended up playing it”, also calling for clarity.