Gary Neville says the Premier League must force teams to fulfil their fixtures after Arsenal requested to postpone Sunday’s north London derby, while Jamie Carragher believes clubs are taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic.
Just 48 hours before their match at Tottenham, the Gunners have requested to postpone the game due to having an insufficient number of players.
Arsenal have a host of players missing due to coronavirus, injury, suspension and the Africa Cup of Nations.
Earlier on Friday, Burnley’s Premier League match against Leicester on Saturday was postponed due to Covid cases and injuries in the Clarets’ squad.
But former Premier League defenders Neville and Carragher were both in agreement on Friday Night Football that Tottenham vs Arsenal should go ahead and that England’s top clubs must stop using coronavirus as an excuse to postpone games.
Neville: This has to stop now!
“I honestly believe that all teams, not just in the Premier League but the EFL now, must be made to play their fixtures,” said Neville.
“Folarin Balogun and Ainsley Maitland-Niles have gone on loan, Granit Xhaka’s got a red card – that’s not the fault of anybody else. We can’t be calling fixtures off.
“If it was purely down to Covid in extraordinary circumstances where there was 10 or 15 players out, but we’re now talking about teams for the last few weeks where there’s no doubt they’ve been calling games off based upon whether they think they’ve got the best squad or team to win a game. It’s got to stop.
“That’s not a dig at Arsenal – I should’ve spoken about this three or four weeks ago.
“Manchester United and other teams have got 30 to 40 players in their squad – I’m not having they can’t get 13 to 16 players together.
“For me, it [Arsenal’s request] should be rejected.
“Without knowing the exact detail, unless there is an absolute load of Covid cases coming today at Arsenal, I feel having played last night at Liverpool, it has to stop now this and we have to make teams play.”
Carragher: Young players should be given a chance
“I don’t want this to be about Arsenal, it’s about the Premier League as a whole. Every club has done this,” said Carragher.
“No other league in Europe is doing this, certainly not in those big leagues. Bayern Munich played a 16-year-old in their last game and that tells you exactly where they are. Why can’t we do that? Why can’t the young players be given an opportunity in these circumstances?
“Everyone’s in the same boat and I’m exactly with Gary. If it’s an outbreak of Covid and it’s decimated the squad I can understand that, but players being in the AFCON tournament and just normal injuries, that’s got nothing to do with it.
“You’ve got U23 squads and younger players, and this is an opportunity where they can get a chance.
“I know there’s a lot riding on Premier League games but at this moment there’s no doubt teams up and down this country are taking advantage of the situation.”
Tuchel ‘very angry’ if Covid rules are being abused
Asked if he felt Covid rules were being abused, Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel said on Friday: “I strongly, strongly hope that’s not the case, otherwise I would be very angry.
“We are doing everything to make games happen and we were made to play when we thought maybe we should not. So, I can only strongly hope the rules are the same for everybody.”
Chelsea have reported one positive Covid-19 test ahead of the trip to Manchester City for Saturday’s 12.30pm kick-off in the Premier League, with Andreas Christensen now isolating.
The Denmark defender had only recently returned from a spell out injured, but is once again sidelined after returning a positive test. Thiago Silva and N’Golo Kante are, however, both in contention to be involved, albeit with very little training time under their belts.
“We have one positive Covid test, with Andreas Christensen,” Tuchel said. “So he will be out for this game.
“To have the news that Andreas Christensen is again out after we waited so long for him, and now he plays so, so strong, and again he’s out. It’s a bit of a setback for everybody, for us mentally.
“We have Thiago Silva and N’Golo Kante back, but it is Thiago Silva and N’Golo Kante with one training session.
“You finally have players back, and it’s just like catching fish.”
Hasenhuttl: PL ‘opened the door’ to Covid rules being twisted
In his press conference on Friday, Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl was strong on the lack of transparency for postponements and how the Premier League is dealing with it.
“They’ve opened the door, and you cannot be surprised that someone is walking through now. I cannot say anything about the Covid situation there because this is normally the reason why you cancel games.
“You have no view, no transparency, and you cannot say anything about that. The rest is speculation.
“The Premier League has to handle this. This is why I say that players/new signings shouldn’t be allowed to play in cancelled games when they haven’t been there before this game was due to play. This is a problem they have and it’s hard to solve it at the moment.”
Brighton vs Tottenham – Sunday December 12
Brentford vs Man Utd – Tuesday December 14 (now January 19, 8pm)
Burnley vs Watford – Wednesday December 15 (now January 18, 7.30pm)
Leicester vs Tottenham – Thursday December 16 (now January 19, 7.30pm)
Man Utd vs Brighton – Saturday December 18
Southampton vs Brentford – Saturday December 18; Southampton won re-arranged game 4-1 on Tuesday January 11
Watford vs Crystal Palace – Saturday December 18
West Ham vs Norwich – Saturday December 18; West Ham won re-arranged game 2-0 on Wednesday January 12
Aston Villa vs Burnley – Saturday December 18
Everton vs Leicester – Sunday December 19 and Tuesday January 11
Liverpool vs Leeds – Sunday December 26
Wolves vs Watford – Sunday December 26
Burnley vs Everton – Sunday December 26
Leeds vs Aston Villa – Tuesday December 28
Arsenal vs Wolves – Tuesday December 28
Everton vs Newcastle – Thursday December 30
Leicester vs Norwich – Saturday January 1
Southampton vs Newcastle – Sunday January 2
Everton vs Leicester – Tuesday January 11 (as above, this game had already previously been postponed from its original Sunday December 19 date)
Burnley vs Leicester – Saturday January 15
What are the Premier League rules around postponements?
The 2021/22 Premier League handbook included Covid protocols and stated the Premier League’s board will “only permit the rearrangement or postponement of a league match in exceptional circumstances”.
The board make calls on a case-by-case basis, and by way of guidance the Premier League says permission for a postponement will not be granted if a club have 14 or more players from their squad list available.
However, after the postponement of a number of games in the weeks leading up to Christmas, a new Premier League guide explaining match postponement protocols was published.
And there, these factors are considered when deciding whether to postpone a top-flight game:
1) The impact of COVID-19 infections on a club’s squad, as well as injuries, illness and those isolating, and the number of players available on the squad list and any Under-21 players with appropriate experience. Where a club cannot field 13 outfield players and a goalkeeper either from its squad list or its appropriately experienced Under-21 players, the match will be postponed.
2) The status of any COVID-19 outbreak within a club, including the number of individuals affected, the sequence and source of infections and their proximity to the match in question.
3) A club’s ability to safely prepare its players in the lead-up to a match.
4) Medical advice as to whether there is any unacceptable risk to the health and safety of players and staff by playing the match.
5) Any advice from UK Health Security Agency and other public bodies.
6) Any other exceptional circumstances.