soccer crisis | 

Premier League will fight against halting fixtures... as they may not start again for a long time

The number of postponed weekend matches across England’s top four divisions reached double figures by 3pm on Thursday.
General view of Old Trafford. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters

General view of Old Trafford. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters

Kevin Palmer

Premier League chiefs are resisting pressure from several clubs to call a halt to the fixture list, as they fear it may take several weeks and possibly longer to get matches back underway.

Officials making the key decision for the Premier League have stated their intention to "continue its current fixture schedule where safely possible" despite announcing that Saturday's game between Manchester United and Brighton is the latest to be postponed due to coronavirus concerns.

The number of postponed weekend matches across England’s top four divisions reached double figures by 3pm on Thursday, with the EFL announcing stricter Covid protocols including increased testing.

United are understood to have had only nine players available because of Covid and other injuries for Tuesday’s game against Brentford, which was called off late on Monday night, and just seven for the Saturday lunchtime match against Brighton at Old Trafford.

Brentford manager Thomas Frank called for all of the weekend’s top-flight matches to be postponed, with the highly-transmissible Omicron variant wreaking havoc with the schedule, but the league is currently intending to play as many games as possible.

"It is with regret that this is the fourth Premier League fixture to have been postponed in the past week," read a Premier League statement.

"While recognising 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."

The calls for a suspension to the Premier League programme look certain to grow, with UK medical experts predicting the case numbers for the new Omicron strain of Covid-19 will "break records on a daily basis" for several weeks to come.

They are terrifyingly predicting there will be a staggering 600,000 daily confirmed new cases of the Omicron variant by the middle of January, with a further 88,376 cases recorded in the UK on Thursday.

That is new record for Covid cases since the start of the pandemic, with Government adviser Chris Whitty suggesting case numbers will top 100,000-per-day imminently, while they are also making gloomy forecasts of hospitalisation numbers of in excess of 5000 people per-day.

Tottenham have had a number of games postponed because of Covid-19. (Adam Davy/PA)

Tottenham have had a number of games postponed because of Covid-19. (Adam Davy/PA)

The big issue impacting football is not illness caused by the Omicron variant, but the limited number of footballers who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 in England.

According to last month's data with Football League clubs, 75 per cent of players had been either fully vaccinated, had a single jab or intend to be vaccinated. The total of double-vaccinated players was 59 per cent, with 16 per cent set to get the jab and 25 per cent of players not currently intending to get a vaccine.

Any player who has not been vaccinated has to isolate if they come into close contact with a Covid case and with Omicron ripping through Premier League clubs, the combination of confirmed cases and isolating players may soon bring down the curtain on the game in England.

The concern for football officials will be that if they sanction a suspension of fixtures of the hectic and lucrative Christmas period, when will games resume?

If medical chiefs are right and England will be recording daily case numbers in the hundreds of thousands by January, a full lockdown will almost certainly be in place and the Premier League will be faced with the prospect of extending the season into June or even July.

Mandatory vaccines for footballers may now be an issue that is debated, while matches may also be moved behind closed doors once again, with Chris Whitty suggesting further restrictions may be inevitable at an appearance before MP's on Thursday.

Now the clock is ticking on what happens next in the Premier League, with a break in fixtures looking more likely than ever.

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