English football has been left reeling by a host of further coronavirus outbreaks, including one at Manchester City which forced their Premier League game at Everton to be postponed just four hours before kick-off.
Three days after Kyle Walker and Gabriel Jesus were among four individuals to return positive tests, the club announced on Monday that another round of testing had “returned a number of positive cases”.
The bleak news came as Doncaster’s next three League One games were wiped out, Rochdale and Morecambe announced that their next two games had been postponed due to Covid-19, while five games were unable to take place in the fifth-tier National League on Monday.
NEWS | This evening’s game at Everton has been postponed.— Manchester City (@ManCity) December 28, 2020
Everton said in a statement on Monday night that the postponement was regrettable and they would ask the Premier League for a full explanation of the decision-making process.
The statement read: “Everton Football Club regret the postponement of tonight’s match against Manchester City – not only for the 2,000 fans who would have been attending, but for supporters on Merseyside and across the world.
“Our players were prepared for the game, as were both the team staff and everyone at Goodison. Matchday is the most important date in our calendar. And this was a big one.
“Whilst Everton will always have public safety uppermost, we will be requesting full disclosure of all the information that Manchester City provided to the Premier League so the club can be clear on why this decision was taken.”
City had said earlier: “With the security of the bubble compromised, there posed a risk that the virus could spread further amongst the squad, the staff and potentially beyond.
“Based on strong medical advice the Premier League, in consultation with both clubs, has decided to postpone the fixture.”
The Premier League, in agreeing to the postponement, insisted the health of players and staff was paramount.
“The board agreed to rearrange the game as a precaution, and further testing will now take place (on Tuesday),” said a statement.
Man City's fixture at Everton, due to be played at 20:00 GMT this evening, has been postponed following a Premier League Board meeting— Premier League (@premierleague) December 28, 2020
“The decision has been taken with the health of players and staff the priority.”
The fixture is the second Premier League game to be called off this season due to positive tests for coronavirus – Aston Villa and Newcastle having been the first on December 4 due to cases within the Magpies’ camp.
A day after Walker and Jesus’ positive tests were announced, City beat Newcastle 2-0 at home on Boxing Day.
The Premier League statement added: “The Premier League continues to have full confidence in its protocols and rules, and the way in which all clubs are implementing them.
“The League wishes those with Covid-19 a safe and speedy recovery and will rearrange the postponed fixture against Everton in due course.”
City’s training ground has been closed for the foreseeable future, with the rest of the squad having to undergo extensive further testing before any potential return can be considered.
The club’s next match is due to be at Chelsea on Sunday, which is then followed by their Carabao Cup semi-final against derby rivals Manchester United at Old Trafford on January 6.
Chelsea manager Frank Lampard said he was in the dark over his side’s next two games – the meeting with City and their FA Cup third-round tie with Morecambe.
“It is a key time and a tough time,” Lampard said after Chelsea’s 1-1 home draw with Aston Villa. “I think we felt that coming as tier four came in with the surge.
“We have to get safety as paramount. I believe that’s why the game has been called off, because of the spread in the squad for Man City. From our point of view, I will find out in the next day or two because it has to be safe for the two teams: if not the game won’t go ahead.
“I think the Premier League will direct us on that but yes, it is a tough time. I am not surprised because the public and with how Covid is in the UK is difficult for everybody.
“Football isn’t different all the time so we will have to see what the PL come up with but safety is paramount.”
Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson said he had “full confidence” in the Premier League’s coronavirus protocols.
“I have got full confidence in everything the Premier League is doing with us at our training ground and for the matches to make certain we keep the virus away,” Hodgson said after Palace’s 1-1 draw with Leicester.
“But what this is showing is, in a moment in time where the virus is spreading rapidly, it is impossible no matter how well shielded people are by the Premier League and all the protocols we have, it is impossible to totally shield people from getting it.”
Doncaster’s next three League One games – against Fleetwood (December 29), Peterborough (January 2) and Oxford (January 5) – are off after an outbreak at the South Yorkshire club.
Rochdale’s next two League One games, at home to Crewe on Tuesday and Saturday’s visit of MK Dons, have been postponed, with players and staff from the hosts forced to self-isolate.
League Two Morecambe were due to play at Bolton on December 29 and away to Bradford on January 2.
National League games at Barnet, Boreham Wood, Chesterfield, Dagenham and Redbridge and Sutton were postponed on Monday after positive tests were returned at various clubs.
Rotherham’s Championship game with Barnsley on Tuesday will go ahead, but boss Paul Warne said the coronavirus-hit Millers are only fulfilling the fixture to avoid receiving a possible points deduction.
The Millers’ last two games have been called off after an outbreak of the virus in the camp before Christmas and they were keen for the South Yorkshire derby to go the same way, but EFL doctors have ruled it can be played.
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