Premier League managers set for showdown Covid talks with potential fixture break on table

A pause in play is only a small part of huge problems that need to be addressed amid mass Covid disruption in the division

Melissa Reddy
Senior Football Correspondent
Monday 20 December 2021 11:41
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The Premier League will have to contend with more than a split among clubs over whether to have a festive circuit break in Monday’s managers meeting, with three other chief concerns set to be flagged.

Unrelenting Covid chaos meant only four top-flight games went ahead over the weekend including Chelsea’s draw at Wolves, which had been rebuffed for postponement.

Thomas Tuchel was livid with the decision to deny his club’s request to reschedule the fixture. “We thought we had a strong case regarding the security and health of players,” Tuchel said. “We have seven positive cases… We applied to not play to put the situation under control and it was rejected. It is very hard to understand it, we are concerned about the health of the players. We end up with players who play coming from injuries and we take the risk. I am worried from a medical point of view.”

Tuchel’s comments speak to one major concern that will be discussed: viewing the current disarray solely through the prism of positive Covid cases.

Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers and Aston Villa boss Steven Gerrard have also been vocal on this matter as players returning from self-isolation are not match fit, while those increasing their load to account for absentees face greater risk of injuries.

Monday’s meeting will tackle that as well as the inconsistencies regarding the granting of postponements.

The Premier League have hit back at accusations of unclear protocols or bias, highlighting that all clubs voted for the rules under Appendix 17 of the season’s handbook and had it explained to them.

It stipulates each matter is analysed on a case-by-case basis, but the general guidance is if 14 or more players are available, matches will not be rescheduled.

However, issues with transparency has triggered mistrust over the first part of that equation, as well as what exactly the methodology is in deciding one club has a bigger Covid dilemma to solve than another.

Thomas Tuchel was unhappy Chelsea’s match went ahead

How an outbreak is classified “uncontrolled” will need to be explained beyond a closed training complex. It is imperative that the Premier League are transparent with supporters too given the impact postponements have had on them and the unnecessary strain it has placed on public transport as Omicron sweeps through the population.

Another huge problem is unvaccinated players. The legal requirement for them to isolate following contact with a positive Covid case has been circled as one of the reasons for the extent of disruption.

Clubs with a perfect or very close double-jab record are increasingly dismayed that they are suffering despite taking all necessary measures to ensure the safest environment possible.

There is also a feeling that they are feeding the league’s vaccination rate – last announced as 68% in October – and want a club-by-club breakdown made available instead of a league-wide figure.

The uptake in Serie A (98%), Bundesliga (92%) and La Liga (92%) shames the numbers in England’s chief division, while a shocking 25% of EFL players do not intend to be jabbed.

The belief is that the revelation from Jurgen Klopp, Steven Gerrard and Patrick Vieira that unvaccinated footballers will be overlooked in the transfer market will force a rethink.

This had already been the word in recruitment circles, with many agents trying to get their clients onside. One leading agent says: “[Some clubs are] too soft in their messaging. They say ‘it’s your choice’ but without listing all the consequences. We’ve had to do a lot of vaccination education for players but if their manager – the guy they follow every day – isn’t drumming the benefits into them and makes it seem like taking or not taking the jab is the same thing, easy peasy, then it can be useless.

“I have a player at Leeds and he says Marcelo Bielsa has been very strong on getting the vaccine. That’s a leader. The truth is unvaccinated players face greater health risks but will now also have stunted careers – this needs to be communicated to them.”

Several managers, Jurgen Klopp amongst them, believe a circuit break is only useful if clubs use the time to double-jab all of their players and get those who are eligible boosted. A pause in play without any significant measures will not alter the current climate.

One proposal is that gameweek 20, the fixtures falling 28-30 December, will be a round of matches up for postponement to allow clubs to get their squad numbers in better health. Amazon Prime Video is the domestic right-holder for those games and is seen as an easier touch than Sky or BT.

Bar hopefully having more available players to choose from and a longer rest period, most managers feel such a short break will change little in terms of the wider Covid picture.

Ghost games behind closed doors are creeping closer given the rapid spread of the virus in the country prompting new restrictions, with a further 82,886 confirmed cases announced on Sunday.

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