The Premier League’s club representatives all met on Monday to discuss the current plans for fixtures in light of the UK’s worsening Covid-19 situation.
The meeting came after six weekend matches were postponed, including Villa’s game against Burnley, controversially called off just two hours before kick-off.
No vote took place and clubs were “advised” that games should go ahead if teams had 13 available players, plus a goalkeeper.
To ease anticipated fixture congestion, there will be no replays in either the 3rd or 4th Round ties of the FA Cup. Therefore, those draws will be decided on the night. It’s reasonable to assume that the same will apply to the League Cup, although a decision has yet to be announced specifically on this point.
The Premier League had been widely expected to consider and even enact a brief pause to the campaign, with some clubs in favour of a “firebreak”. It was some surprise that essentially the league intends to continue with an “business as usual” approach, albeit with a stated contingency for those fixtures unavoidably cancelled or the criteria against which they must take place.
However, this decision comes in a week where the league reported an alarming and disruptive 90 positive cases across players and staff. This represented a deeply concerning doubling of the previous weeks figure from 42. It’s also worth noting that this is the highest figure reported from the division since the pandemic began.
The vaccination of players also remains a work in progress; 77 per cent have received two doses of Covid-19 vaccination, while 16 per cent are completely unvaccinated. This has obvious health implications and/or associated risks where seperate teams come together and their vaccination status’ differ.
The Premier League also has the unwelcome fact that it has the lowest vaccinated rates across Europe’s top divisions. For comparison, Serie A (98%), Ligue 1 (95%), Bundesliga (94%) and La Liga (90%).
This appears to cut across transfer conversations too, with Villa boss Steven Gerrard stating that vaccination status will form part of decisions in regards to January targets.
There is also the issue of travel, moving large numbers of supporters at a time where community transmission is surging. London currently has significant cases, with 15 boroughs having reported 150%+ increases in one week alone. London Mayor Sadiq Khan has also declared a “major incident” as the capitals hospitals feel the strain of Omicron.
There will be 2981 Chelsea supporters due to make the journey to Villa Park for the 5:30pm kick off on Boxing Day evening.
This is all on the assumption that the government will not impose further restrictions, however unpopular, in the coming days. The Cabinet met yesterday afternoon, opting to not impose any new measures in England, but with the caveat that this was being reviewed hourly.
Ominously, scandal hit PM Boris Johnson ended by saying that the government reserved the possibility of bringing in new rules in England before Christmas.