Premier League chiefs will meet on Monday to discuss a potential festive “firebreaker” as a result of the escalating coronavirus crisis, with managers voicing fears over player safety and fairness.
Just four of the scheduled 10 games took place this weekend due to a number of call-offs caused by outbreaks that left clubs unable to field teams.
Despite record numbers of Covid-19 cases across Britain as the Omicron variant sweeps through the nation, the Premier League has so far insisted the show goes on “where safely possible.”
So far, the league has been considering applications for postponements on a case-by-case basis but there has been criticism over the decision-making process.
Managers forced to balance the wellbeing of their players with the need for results say there has been a lack of clarity over why some games are postponed but others allowed to go ahead.
Chelsea have fallen six points behind Manchester City at the top of the table after draws with Everton and Wolves over the past week while dealing with a worsening outbreak.
The European champions’ application to have their match at Wolves on Sunday called off was rejected even though they had seven positive Covid cases.
“We were put in a huge risk of health and safety to the players, not just because of Covid but also physically,” said Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel.
“From a medical point of view, I’m very worried because we have had four consecutive days of positive tests in the squad.
“How will this stop if we carry on and pretend it’s not happening? This is my opinion and it’s the medical opinion but it’s not the opinion of the Premier League, so we have to play.”
Title-chasing Liverpool stumbled in a 2-2 draw at Tottenham, with a number of key players absent after returning positive tests.
The crisis has come at the busiest time in the English football calendar, with Premier League sides each due to play three rounds of matches between December 26 and January 3.
Even a short circuit-breaker would put strain on the calendar, forcing clubs to cram in fixtures during the second half of the season.
The Athletic reported that a compromise solution could result in the middle round of the festive fixtures from December 28-30 being postponed to give squads stretched by infections and injuries extra preparation time.
Adding to the frustration over the perceived unfairness of some call-offs is that some of the clubs with the best vaccination rates have been forced to play on.
Unvaccinated players still have to self-isolate for 10 days after coming into close contact with a positive case, which has further depleted a number of squads.
The Premier League has not released vaccination data since October when only 68 percent of players were double-vaccinated, while 81 percent had received one dose.
Leeds, who have a 99 percent vaccination rate among players and staff according to chief executive Angus Kinnear, had to give debuts to two teenagers and name a 15-year-old on the bench due to an injury crisis for Saturday’s 4-1 defeat by Arsenal.
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta admitted his side were “lucky” to be in action this weekend and repeated his call for more transparency on the decision-making.
The Gunners were forced to play at Brentford on the opening weekend of the season despite four players testing positive and lost the game 2-0.
“We want to play all under the same rules,” said Arteta. “That’s where I think they have to come forward. Whatever they decide is best for the competition has to be explained.”
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has been an outspoken campaigner for players to get vaccinated and receive booster shots.
And the German said any pause in matches must be used to boost protection for players.
“If everybody gets boosted then we go two weeks at home and that’s really the solution and then we don’t have cases, then fine,” said Klopp. “Let’s go home and wait for that, absolutely.
“But if we just stop it and don’t do anything in that department, then I don’t see the benefit of it.”