Football: English Premier League at a cross-roads as Covid-19 wrecks fixture list

Liverpool's Diogo Jota (right) shooting the first goal during the Liverpool and Newcastle United match in England on Dec 16, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (REUTERS, XINHUA) - Several clubs are advocating for a shutdown of the English Premier League for about a month in an effort to deal with the surge in Covid-19 cases, ESPN reported on Thursday (Dec 16).

The outlet cited unidentified sources.

Britain has experienced a surge in the coronavirus, reporting a total of 88,376 new cases on Thursday, up from 78,610 cases 24 hours earlier.

The surge has ripped the EPL's pre-Christmas schedule to shreds, with six more matches being called off on Thursday, taking the total to nine this month, including Manchester United's game against Brighton on Saturday.

However, the league has ruled out a 'pause' to the season to allow club squads to recover despite the season reaching a crucial phase and any slip-ups now by title contenders could prove extremely costly.

The matter has not been lost on managers with Brentford boss Thomas Frank, whose team has experienced several positive Covid tests, calling for this weekend's games to be suspended.

"We think we should postpone the full round of Premier League games this weekend," he said on Thursday, according to ESPN.

"Covid cases are going through the roof at all Premier League clubs; everyone is dealing with it and having problems."

Liverpool were missing Virgil Van Dijk, Fabinho and Curtis Jones because of positive Covid tests on Thursday but came from a goal down to beat Newcastle 3-1.

Manager Jurgen Klopp said he "hoped" Sunday's Tottenham game would go ahead but did not sound too optimistic. Spurs have had their last two league games postponed because of infections.

"It's a really tricky situation. Nobody knows exactly how we'll be tomorrow," the German said on Thursday. "I've never had three players on match day pull out. The most important thing is because the boys are vaccinated they will not feel it really. That's good. We have to wait for them.

"Should we stop the league? I have no real answer for it. If you stop it for two weeks and we come back, I really don't know what to do.

"I saw the Everton line-up today, I don't know half of the players.

"We have three players out because of Covid ... then we play on the 26th and the 28th (of December) and you have 13 players available, that's not possible. There are plenty of questions we need to find answers for but I don't have the solution."

Newcastle United fans in England on Dec 16. Britain has experienced a Covid-19 surge with 88,376 new cases. PHOTO: REUTERS

Chelsea, who were missing Romelu Lukaku, Timo Werner and Callum Hudson-Odoi because of Covid, were held to a surprise home draw with Everton on Thursday, which left them four points behind league leaders Manchester City.

But when asked if the title race should be put on hold while the protagonists deal with Covid infections, Tuchel said he did not want to get involved in sports politics.

"We are all worried about Covid, it is close to us, we had four positives. Other games get cancelled, ours didn't. If they decide we have to play we play," he told reporters.

But some players maintained an optimistic front, with Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold, who scored a thunderbolt four minutes from time, saying: "Until we're told otherwise we'll be in there every day and making sure we're fit for Sunday. The games come thick and fast so any minor slip can prove costly come April or May."

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