A year ago, the Premier League was a phenomenal experience and not at all pleasant for its fans: traditional Boxing Day matches will be played behind closed doors, amid the dire crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic. The special date, the day on which almost all elite teams and a good portion of those playing in the lower divisions take to the field for a busy football calendar day, will have fans this year. But a resurgence in the number of infections in England, driven by the Omicron version, canceled part of the party.
Of the nine matches to be played this Sunday, three were postponed. On Thursday, the league announced the cancellations of Liverpool v Leeds and Wolverhampton v Watford. A day later, Burnley v Everton was also cancelled.
The series of postponements, which have been in place for the past few days due to the outbreak of Covid-19 in squads of English clubs, find themselves without the required amount of athletes to dispute matches. Last week, the United Kingdom, which is already in winter, saw a more than 60% increase in average daily infections in seven days: from 53,000 to 84,000 on the 16th to 23rd. On 22nd, it broke the barrier of 100,000 new infections with daily cases for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
criticism of technicians
Trying to work around the problem, representatives of 20 Premier League teams and league officials met over a videoconference last Monday to discuss emergency measures. One of the possibilities was the suspension of football in the country until the situation stabilized. But the final decision was to go with the calendar as far as possible. Among the definitions, clubs were advised to enter the field if they had at least 13 athletes and one goalkeeper in playing position.
The result was the target of criticism from coaches and players, including Tottenham coach Antonio Conte. The Londoners have already postponed two games in the league and were unable to play a game against Rennes in the Conference League. In the end they ended up giving up.
– Frankly speaking, some technicians tried to talk, asked for solutions, but everything seemed to be already fixed. When there is a wall in front of you, you can talk and ask what you want, but the decisions have already been made – said the Italian.
Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola also spoke of the possibility of a strike, while midfielder Henderson, Liverpool’s captain, called for the players’ situation to be taken into account by the authorities:
– Of course we want to play on the field, but I am concerned about the well being of the players. I don’t think anyone is taking this seriously, especially at this point in time, when there is COVID-19 out there.
The planned stoppage will begin on the 28th, an indicator of how important the Boxing Day tradition is to the English football calendar. Apart from sports, the date is a national holiday with historical roots, celebrated just after Christmas. In the field, it is a day of crowded stands, fueled by the gathering of families in their cities.
Since the beginning of December, with the rise of Omicron, the UK has taken strict measures to avoid closing stadium gates again. Fans who wish to watch matches with more than 10,000 spectators must submit a vaccine passport with two doses or a negative test for COVID-19.
Among elite players, 77% have been fully vaccinated, while 16% have not received even a single dose of the immunizing agent, which is the number of clubs.
The following matches are scheduled for this Sunday:
- West Ham v Southampton (12 pm, ESPN Brazil broadcast)
- Tottenham x Crystal Palace (air 12 hours, Fox Sports)
- Norwich x Arsenal (12h)
- Manchester City x Leicester (12 h)
- Aston Villa v Chelsea (2:30 pm, ESPN Brazil broadcast)
- Brighton x Brentford (5pm, ESPN Brazil broadcast).
On Monday, Newcastle x Manchester United (5pm, ESPN Brazil) closes out the round.
In an always complicated confrontation against the Foxes, the Citizens could open up six points of difference to the leader, Liverpool, the second-placed, who does not play in the round. Meanwhile, third, Chelsea try to stay on top against Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa. Both clubs are still affected by COVID-19, but Lukaku and Hudson-Odoi will be back in the Blues.