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Football Reporting


Premier League has no COVID contingency plans if positives persist

The Premier League does not have a plan in place for a curtailment of the 2020-21 season if an escalation in positive COVID-19 tests leads to the campaign being halted, sources have told ESPN — a situation described as ’embarrassing’ by a source at one top-flight club.

Concern is growing within the English game over a rise in COVID-19 cases at all levels. Everton’s clash with Manchester City was postponed just four hours before kick-off on Monday due to a coronavirus outbreak within City’s coronavirus security bubble.

Additionally, midweek fixtures in the Football League (EFL) have been called off as a result of clubs being unable to play due to the virus.

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City’s trip to Chelsea on Sunday, as well as their Carabao Cup semi-final against Manchester United on Jan. 6, is also in doubt, although the picture at the Etihad will become clearer on Wednesday when the results of tests done on Pep Guardiola’s squad Tuesday are confirmed.

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The Premier League confirmed today, however, that 18 positive tests were recorded from 1,479 players and club staff between Dec. 21-27.

The UK government is due to review its COVID-19 lockdown measures on Wednesday after reporting a record high of 53,135 new cases on Tuesday and with infections rising within society in general.

The Telegraph has reported that some Premier League chairmen have held informal talks over the possibility of a two-week pause of competitive action in January to enable the situation to “cool-off.”

ESPN is aware of a senior figure at one club being keen to discuss such a move, but as yet, it has not been raised with a number of teams and sources at three leading clubs have told ESPN that they are unaware of any moves to temporarily halt the season.

But while there is a determination within the game to continue until or unless it is safe to do so, sources have said that the lack of an agreed plan to decide the season in the event of a curtailment is causing alarm.

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was asked about the possibility of a mid-season break due to COVID concerns following his team’s 1-0 win over Wolves on Tuesday.

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He said: “It’s hard for me to just answer there, but a circuit-breaker, it’s more so the whole society and I’m not sure if stopping playing football will make a difference.

“At least in our bubble we’ve proven to be quite, well, we haven’t had too many cases especially within the group and transfer things within the group. I don’t know, I don’t want to join in the discussion.”

The 2019-20 season was played to a completion earlier this year following a 100-day shutdown as a result of the pandemic, but prior to the season being restarted, the prospect of the table being decided by average points-per-game, or even being declared null and void, were discussed by the 20 Premier League clubs.

And despite being able to conclude last season, talks between the clubs and the Premier League in August and September aimed at drawing up a plan to deal with the prospect of a curtailment only resulted in an agreement on a set of principles which would make ending the season uncompleted an option of last resort.

Richard Masters, the Premier League chief executive, admitted that finishing the season was the “number one priority,” but efforts to thrash out an agreement on a cut-off point or number of games needed to be played to make the season valid failed to be reach a consensus.

One club source told ESPN that it was an indictment of all of the clubs that they have been unable to “reach an agreement on something so important,” but the situation remains that no blueprint is in place to decide the season if COVID-19 forces it to be cut short.

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