Two more matches off as COVID problems worsen in English Premier League

Associated Press

London — The number of postponements in the English Premier League rose to five in a week on Thursday after two more matches were called off.

A growing number of infections at Leicester led to its game against Tottenham being postponed hours before kickoff on Thursday. An ongoing outbreak within Manchester United’s squad also meant its game against Brighton on Saturday won’t go ahead.

A growing number of infections at Leicester led to its game against Tottenham being postponed hours before kickoff on Thursday.

COVID-19 cases at Brentford meant it was unable to host United on Tuesday, while Brighton-Tottenham on Sunday and Burnley-Watford were also postponed – reflecting the worsening health emergency in Britain as the omicron variant spreads.

“While recognizing 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 Premier League said in a statement. “The health and wellbeing of all concerned remains our priority.”

The league said its board was assessing applications to postpone matches on a case-by-case basis.

Brighton wanted its match against Wolverhampton on Wednesday to be called off, with manager Graham Potter saying his team had “three or four” absences because of COVID-19 and seven players out in total. Brighton’s request was denied and the team lost 1-0.

“I think the path we’re on, I’m not sure how long we can stay on it for,” Potter said. “We all want football to continue, want life to continue as best as we can but health is the most important thing.

“We’ve got some issues ourselves and this week has been a little bit disturbing in terms of how quickly we’ve been affected. If that carries on then we’ll have to have some serious thought (about the league being suspended).”

Brentford manager Thomas Frank went even further on Thursday, saying he wanted the weekend round of fixtures to be postponed to allow clubs to deal with the outbreaks.

Frank was informed midway through his news conference on Thursday, ahead of Brentford’s away match at Southampton on Saturday, of four more cases of the coronavirus among players and staff at the club. That took the total to 13.

“We should postpone the full round of Premier League games this weekend,” Frank said. “COVID cases are going through the roof at all Premier League clubs, everyone is dealing with it and having problems.

“To postpone this round and also (next week’s English League Cup) round would give everyone a week at least, or four or five days to clean and do everything at the training ground so everything is clean and you break the chain.”

Frank said postponing this weekend’s round could be enough to ensure the busy festive program in the division will be able to go ahead largely as planned.

“We fully respect that we want to play and it is important football keeps going,” Frank said, “and this way we can make sure Boxing Day keeps going, I’m 100% sure of that.

“This omicron variant is running like wildfire around the world and I think we need to do all we can to protect and avoid it. We can do a lot by closing down training grounds for three, four or five days, and then we can go again.”

The English Football League, which covers the three divisions below the Premier League, released figures that showed a quarter of its players “do not intend” to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The EFL said 59% of players across the three divisions are already double-vaccinated, with 16% set to have the jab.