- Fixture called off hours before kick-off after Covid outbreak
- ‘Significant rise’ in positive tests among Fulham squad
- José Mourinho had expressed frustration at lack of news
The Premier League has insisted that it retains full confidence in its Covid-19 protocols after Wednesday night’s game between Tottenham and Fulham became the second fixture to be called off in the space of three days, raising concerns that the season may have to be put on hold.
As Tottenham responded to the latest postponement with anger behind the scenes, the league continued to play down the possibility of the season being curtailed despite mounting pressure. The growing scale of the problem was illustrated when the Premier League announced a record 18 positive results among players and staff from tests conducted last week. Five of those tests came at Manchester City, whose trip to Everton was called off on Monday.
But despite the disruption continuing following a coronavirus outbreak at Fulham, the league remains determined to continue as normal. It is understood that the government is not currently considering a suspension, while the competition’s organisers feel that the risks of playing remain low despite the rising number of cases.
The Premier League statement said: “With low numbers of positive tests across the overwhelming majority of clubs, the Premier League continues to have full confidence in its Covid-19 protocols and being able to continue to play our fixtures as scheduled. The league wishes those with Covid-19 a safe and speedy recovery and will rearrange the postponed fixture between Tottenham and Fulham in due course.”
Spurs were left frustrated following the decision, which came less than three hours before kick-off at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The north Londoners were annoyed at what they deemed a lack of communication from Fulham, who asked the league for a postponement.
José Mourinho, Tottenham’s manager, captured the irritation at the north London club with an Instagram post just after 2pm. Zooming in on a television playing Sky Sports News, Mourinho summed up his feelings by writing: “Match at 6pm … We still don’t know if we play. Best league in the world,” he wrote.
Although the fixture had been in doubt after Fulham recorded a number of positive cases on Tuesday, the lack of information meant that Spurs had to prepare as normal, staffing and preparing their stadium for matchday at great cost.
Fulham’s head coach, Scott Parker, missed their last match – the goalless draw with Southampton last Saturday – after a member of his household tested positive. Parker went into self-isolation for 10 days having tested negative and returned to training on Monday.
The Premier League said: “Fulham lodged a request with the Premier League board to rearrange the fixture following a significant rise in positive Covid-19 cases, as well as a number of players showing symptoms today. The Premier League board has consulted its medical advisors and the decision to postpone the game has been taken as a precaution and with the health of players and staff as the priority. The group will now be retested immediately.”
The situation led to Sam Allardyce, West Brom’s manager, called for the season to be suspended following his side’s 5-0 defeat to Leeds on Tuesday. Sheffield United’s game at Burnley on the same evening went ahead despite the Blades recording “a number of positive coronavirus tests”.
Yet Allardyce’s view is not universal. One source told the Guardian that a two or four-week circuit breaker would be counterproductive, leading to more fixture congestion. Three games have already been called off this season, with Newcastle’s trip to Aston Villa on 4 December postponed following a rise in cases at United’s training ground.
There is also mounting confusion over the process leading to fixture postponements. With Premier League rules stating a game cannot be postponed unless a team has fewer than 14 players available, one source questioned why Fulham’s request was granted.
Carlo Ancelotti said that Everton, who face West Ham on Friday, have not received an explanation from the league about why their game against City was postponed. City were given the all-clear to re-open their training ground yesterday after test results showed no further cases in their squad. Pep Guardiola’s side are due to visit Chelsea on Sunday, while Fulham are scheduled to visit Burnley.
Meanwhile the league will no longer have any fans in stadiums after the government announced that Liverpool will move from tier 2 to tier 3.