Covid-19 postponements pile up as Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe expresses concern over Premier League ‘integrity’
Five of the 10 matches scheduled for this weekend have already been postponed due to positive Covid tests, and Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard has revealed that a meeting is being organized by the league early next week to address the “concerns and unanswered questions” from club bosses, particularly around the criteria used by the Premier League board to approve a postponement.
Magpies manager Howe is concerned that the incomplete matchlist will make the league ‘disjointed’ and fears that if more matches are called off in the coming days, questions could arise over the integrity of the competition.
“I don’t think we want half the games to be played and half to be played,” he said.
“The league really loses something if it gets disjointed in terms of games played.
“When you start to lose players to Covid, the worry is that the competition becomes slightly unfair and I don’t think anyone wants to see that.
“A decision has to be made to ensure that integrity is maintained in the competition. I think it’s on the knife’s edge. People want to see a fair league and not a disparity in games and missing players.
“I am desperate to continue the program myself, but the well-being of the players and fans must come first. “
Howe’s side face defending champions Manchester City on Sunday. Blues boss Pep Guardiola canceled his pre-game press conference on Friday after rendering an inconclusive Covid test result and awaiting a follow-up PCR test, but the PA news agency understands he has since been authorized to travel with his team.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is not against the Premier League’s brief shutdown amid rising Covid cases, but said: “I just don’t see 100% of the Advantage Stopping the league means we’re stopping now for one to two weeks, that means (missing) five to six games So when do you want to play them?
His counterpart at Villa Gerrard revealed that top managers and captains would have an opportunity to discuss the criteria for postponement after a number of bosses called for clarity.
“On the back of what a lot of managers have said, we want the same thing that is for the game to continue. There are obviously a lot of concerns and a lot of unanswered questions,” he said.
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta echoed the call for clarity, after his side’s request to postpone their season opener at Brentford was rejected.
“We were here on the other side of the table (at the start of the season) where we had every argument in the world not to play a football game and we ended up playing it,” said the Spaniard. .
The rules governing Covid-19 postponements have been voted on by clubs, including Arsenal, and are set out in Annex 17 of the 2021-22 Premier League Handbook. Each decision is made on a case-by-case basis, but clubs are advised that if 14 or more players are available, permission to defer will not be granted.
Clubs must use players under the age of 21 with relevant experience in the Premier League, EFL or abroad.
However, the board is also taking into account the clubs’ medical advice on whether this is an out-of-control epidemic, in which case it is considered dangerous to bring players together.
Tottenham’s game against Brighton last Sunday was the first to be called off due to Covid-19 after an outbreak at Spurs.
They are now ready to play against Liverpool this weekend, and their manager Antonio Conte said: “We are ready to follow the rules and I think that is the most important thing.
“If there are rules, then the rules must be the same for all teams.”
Nineteen matches across the EFL’s three divisions were also called off, along with two women’s Super League matches, Chelsea v West Ham and Manchester City v Reading.
Locally, Doncaster Rovers’ trip to Lincoln City and the hosting of Acrington Stanley on Wednesday in Sheffield in Ligue 1 are canceled.
In Ligue 2, Bradford City’s visit to Carlisle United is postponed, while Guiseley’s FA Trophy draw at Chesterfield is called off – the latter also deciding to withdraw from this season’s competition.