Premier League managers will convene on Monday to discuss the Covid-19 crisis engulfing the competition, with Newcastle boss Eddie Howe saying the top flight’s integrity is on a knife edge.
Five of this weekend’s 10 scheduled matches have already been postponed due to positive Covid tests, and Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard revealed a meeting was being organised by the league early next week to tackle the club bosses’ “concerns and unanswered questions”, in particular around the criteria used by the Premier League board to grant approval to a postponement.
Magpies manager Howe is worried the incomplete fixture list makes the league “disjointed” and fears if more games are called off in the coming days, there could be questions around the competition’s integrity.
“I don’t think we want half the games played and half not played,” he said.
“The league really loses something if it becomes disjointed in terms of games played. When you start losing players to Covid then the worry is the competition becomes slightly unfair and I don’t think anyone wants to see that.
“A decision needs to be made to ensure integrity is maintained in the competition. I think it is on a knife edge.
“People want to see a fair league and not disparity in games and players missing.
“I’m desperate to continue the programme myself but the welfare of the players and supporters has to come first.”
Howe’s side are due to face reigning champions Manchester City on Sunday. The Blues’ boss Pep Guardiola cancelled his pre-match press conference on Friday after returning an inconclusive Covid test result, and is awaiting the result of a further test.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is not against calling a brief halt to the Premier League amid mounting Covid cases but said: “I just don’t see 100 per cent the benefit of it.
“Stopping the league means we stop now for one to two weeks, it means (missing) five to six games. So when do you want to play them?”
His Villa counterpart Gerrard revealed managers and top-flight captains would have the chance to discuss the criteria for postponement after a number of bosses called for clarity.
“On the back of what a lot of managers have said, we want the same thing which is for the the game to continue. There are obviously a lot of concerns and a lot of unanswered questions,” he said.
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta echoed the call for clarity, after his side’s request to have their opening match of the season at Brentford postponed was rejected.
“We have been here on the other side of the table (at the start of the season) where we had all the arguments in the world to not play a football match and we ended up playing it,” the Spaniard said.
The rules governing Covid-19 postponements were voted on by the clubs, including Arsenal, and are set out in Appendix 17 of the Premier League’s 2021-22 handbook.
Each decision is taken on a case-by-case basis, but clubs are guided that if 14 or more players are available then permission will not be granted to postpone.
Clubs will be expected to utilise under-21 players with suitable experience in the Premier League, the EFL or overseas.
However, the board do also consider medical advice from clubs on whether it is deemed to be an uncontrollable outbreak, in which case it is seen as unsafe to bring players together.
Tottenham’s match against Brighton last Sunday was the first to be called off for Covid-19 reasons after an outbreak at Spurs.
They are now set to play against Liverpool this weekend, and their manager Antonio Conte said: “We are ready to follow the rules and I think it’s the most important thing. If there are rules, then for sure the rules have to be the same for all the teams.”
By 3pm on Friday, 19 matches across the three divisions of the EFL had also been called off.