COVID is Back, a lot of Footballer Players Are Sick and This is a Scary Time for the League… Can the League Continue like this?

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It’s time to give clubs a vacation for the sake of the holiday schedule, with four matches already postponed and more on the way.

Coronavirus: Premier League receives six positive tests | Football News |  Sky Sports

A new Covid-19 problem has erupted in the Premier League. The evidence is both anecdotal and statistical (the postponing of Tottenham’s match against Brighton last weekend caught everyone off guard).

There were 39 positive tests in the Premier League from August 30 to November 21. Last week, they had 42. Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, has warned that record-breaking rates of infections are on the way. The Premier League should be similarly equipped.

Arsenal vs. West Ham and Brighton vs. Wolves were both matchups in the final round of matches in March 2020, before English football was stopped.

As the ship began to drop below the water, 22 footballers reached for their stringed instruments and played a familiar tune, giving the unsettling sensation that none of this mattered in the light of a public health crisis.

The Premier League has already written to its member teams, asking them to adopt “immediate measures” such as boosting testing frequency (which could explain the rise in positive cases), social separation, and wearing masks indoors.

To help prevent the spread of proven cases, players and staff are now required to complete lateral flow tests before entering the training facility.

However, it’s a bit like whistling into the wind. Although Premier League teams already had strict protocols in place, the truth of a more transmissible variety is that football will never be able to preserve its bubble structure. No industry is safe when the UK records 78,610 cases in a single day.

There are three options available to the Premier League; inaction is not one of them. The first is to advise its clubs to “grin and bear it,” forcing their Under-23 and Under-18 teams to train apart from the first team and telling them to supplement their numbers with academy players.

The advantage of this strategy is that it puts more pressure on teams to guarantee that all of their players are vaccinated.

The most obvious negative – and it’s a convincing one – is that it threatens to penalize clubs that do have outbreaks, jeopardizing the league’s competition’s integrity.

The second option is to keep things as they are, but with a great deal more clarity. Matches will be called off when needed, but much of the current stress arises from a lack of clarity about how many absences are required for a postponement to be enforced.

Brendan Rodgers told the media that Leicester City has more players out than other clubs whose games have been canceled, but some of them are unrelated to Covid-19. Are we going to take that into account?

Jurgen Klopp feels that this must be a two-way street, with clubs disclosing how many players have returned positive PCR tests and the league disclosing how many positive PCR tests allow for a postponement. That appears to be very reasonable.

Despite this, there are issues. On Wednesday, Watford’s match against Burnley was called off two and a half hours before kickoff, with away fans already in town or on their way.

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 15: An LED screen in the ticket office is seen informing fans that the match is postponed two hours ahead of kick off because of COVID numbers in the Watford squad during the Premier League match between Burnley and Watford at Turf Moor on December 15, 2021 in Burnley, England. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)

On Thursday, the same thing happened, albeit with greater notice, when Leicester’s match against Tottenham was postponed seven hours before kickoff.

Despite the reasonable fury, there is little indication that Watford could have done much more – even if they were doubtful about the fixture’s feasibility, they had little choice but to await the results of the PCR testing. We must expect that some of our supporters will be exploited if we are to continue. What’s the most recent news?

The third – and increasingly evident – option remains. Due to major outbreaks, Brentford’s match against Southampton, Crystal Palace’s trip to Watford, and Manchester United’s home match against Brighton are all likely to be postponed this weekend. It makes more sense to declare a firebreak to try to prevent the rise in cases.

It only has to last eight days, which includes this weekend’s games as well as the EFL quarter-finals, which will take place next week in the middle of the week. On Boxing Day, the Premier League could make a comeback.

But this, too, is laden with difficulties. Can you really restart the league when there are more positive cases than when it was postponed if infections continue to climb, as they appear to be?

What if tiny outbreaks continue to occur in clubs following the restart? It is extremely certain that clubs will request that players return to “bubbles,” as they did in 2020.

There is no way to extend this campaign with a UEFA Nations League program starting next summer and a schedule that is already incredibly tight (and starting early) owing to next year’s winter World Cup. Calendar space is in short supply due to European competition.

There’s also the issue of money to consider. You could argue that considerations about player and staff health should take precedence over such issues – and you’d be right morally – but postponing games raises the possibility of rebates to broadcasters, which clubs naturally want to avoid.

The firebreak makes sense. Thomas Frank, the manager of Brentford, is the first to publicly push for one, and other Premier League managers are likely to agree with him privately.

The league’s governing body, on the other hand, must use that time to devise a precise, written plan that will provide clubs and spectators more clarity on how to manage Covid-affected games. If the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that this issue isn’t going away anytime soon.

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