everton off | 

Another match goes as Covid continues to wreak havoc on St Stephen's Day schedule

Everton manager Rafael Benitez. (Peter Byrne/PA)

Everton manager Rafael Benitez. (Peter Byrne/PA)

Burnley’s St Stephen's Day clash with Everton has been postponed due to the number of coronavirus cases in the Toffees’ squad.

Everton had an initial request to postpone the game rejected on Thursday despite boss Rafael Benitez claiming he only had nine fit outfield players.

Everton confirmed in a brief statement: “Our Premier League fixture at Burnley on Boxing Day has been postponed due to the number of COVID cases and injuries in our squad.”

The Premier League said it had taken the “regrettable” decision to postpone the game following a meeting of its Board on Friday morning.

It said in a statement: “The Board reviewed the club’s request today to postpone the match following further injuries to their squad.

“They concluded that the club will not be able to fulfil their fixture this weekend as a result of an insufficient number of players available to play due to Covid-19 cases and injuries.”

Benitez said on Thursday that he was “surprised” the game had been expected to go ahead, after two St Stephen's Day matches – Liverpool v Leeds and Wolves v Watford – were postponed due to Covid cases.

His squad endured a Covid outbreak following the game against Chelsea on December 16, while a number of top players including Richarlison and Andros Townsend are injured.

Benitez said: “With the injuries and the positives that we have, we were expecting that the game would be postponed.

“Like in a lot of other games (to be postponed) to try and keep the integrity of the league, because you are losing so many players.”

Meanwhile Tottenham boss Antonio Conte has described Thursday’s meeting between the Premier League and all 20 top-flight bosses as a waste of time and likened the league’s governing body to a brick wall.

Rising Covid-19 cases in England’s top-flight saw all managers and head coaches come together for a virtual meeting with the division to discuss the ongoing situation in addition to the congested fixture list and other key issues.

Numerous matches have already been postponed due to coronavirus outbreaks and managers have repeatedly highlighted a lack of player welfare, including Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola suggesting a players’ strike may be the only way to draw attention to it.

But the online chat proved pointless for Conte, who said: “If I have to be honest, it was a meeting that we tried to speak and some coaches tried to speak, to ask about solutions but I think everything was decided.

“I think yesterday it was a wall and for this reason I also prefer to not go into it.”

Asked if it was a waste of time, the Italian added: “I think so. Because when you have a wall in front of you, you can speak and ask what you want but every decision was (already) taken.”

Spurs, who have just returned from an enforced two-week break due to a Covid-19 outbreak at the club, are set to host Crystal Palace on Sunday before they visit Southampton on Tuesday.

Conte admits rotation will be key, adding: “It is not easy for us, it is not easy for all the teams to play after only one day is not simple.

“You have to manage the situation very well because the risk to lose players for injuries, so we have to pay great attention, especially my team.

“Don’t forget we had half our squad with Covid and in previous press conferences I said that when you take Covid, then you have to live with this situation for two to three weeks after you finished with Covid.

“We have to try to manage the situation very well because for sure physically the players with Covid (previously) are not 100 per cent fit.”

Norwich head coach Dean Smith feels it is “lunacy” to expect teams to play two games in 48 hours.

The Canaries’ Premier League match at West Ham was called off last weekend because of the ongoing Covid-19 issues, with just four of the scheduled 10 top-flight games able to be played as scheduled.

Norwich are set to host Arsenal on Sunday, and then play Crystal Palace on December 28.

Smith, though, believes that is an unreasonable expectation.

“We have some fresh cases, but we have got others coming back. We are not sure how many will miss Boxing Day,” he said.

“We are having to push rehab forward and people are breaking down in rehab because of that, it is asking massive questions of everybody’s squads at the moment.

“It is lunacy that we are having to play two games in 48 hours and there has got to be a question about the integrity of the competition when teams are playing weakened teams against other teams and it is affecting league positions.”


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