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how the Covid-19 flattens the English championship

Tradition among traditions in England, the “Boxing Day” will look gray this Sunday, December 26. The “day of boxes”, a holiday across the Channel and which usually fills the stands of all Premier League stadiums on Boxing Day, is not immune to a new wave of Covid-19 contaminations which is breaking records. almost everywhere in Europe. Result: matches postponed, again and again, and an already well-stocked calendar which will only continue to get heavier for the elite clubs in the near future…

December 9, 2021: Tottenham players affected, first wind of fear in the Kingdom

On December 9, when Tottenham’s Spurs were to host Stade Rennais for the last Group G meeting in the Europa League Conference, eight players and five members of the staff of the London club tested positive. The match is postponed (then Rennes’ green carpet victory will be pronounced, editor’s note) while the fate of the match against Brighton in the league, scheduled for Sunday December 12, is also quickly sealed and sent back to the Greek calendar.

This first postponement in the Premier League marks the start of a sad series for the English championship, which will quickly see most clubs struggling with a virus and its new variant – Omicron – without managing to stem its expansion.

Decimated workforce, questions about vaccination … The Premier League in full doubt

Brentford-Manchester United, Burnley-Watford… Over the days, the health situation is deteriorating and is affecting more and more matches. It sometimes forces coaches to compose their squads according to the players still spared by the virus. This is particularly the case for Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea against Wolverhampton (0-0), with seven men testing positive before the meeting including Romelu Lukaku, Timo Werner and Callum Hudson-Odoi. The request of the German technician to postpone the match was not heard by the Premier League.

Another debate has necessarily returned to the table: that of the vaccination of players. According to the figures communicated at the beginning of the week by the English championship, 77% of them would be completely vaccinated (compared to 98% in Italy, 95% in France or 92% in Germany and Spain). But it is above all a data that holds the attention: nearly 16% would not have received the slightest dose of vaccine against Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.

If some managers like Pep Guardiola (Manchester City) or Steven Gerrard (Aston Villa) push their groups, others like Sean Dyche (Burnley) defend individual freedom.

A calendar to redraw

After the three matches postponed this Sunday (Burnley – Everton, Liverpool – Leeds, Wolverhampton – Watford), 12 matches have not been played since December 12. And maybe more in a few days… At the same time, no decision on closed doors in stadiums or gauges in the stands has been taken, unlike Scotland or Wales.

Faced with this situation, the governing bodies of English football and the clubs are trying to discuss to arrange the best possible calendar. Not easy when, to paraphrase Spurs manager Antonio Conte, “you have a wall in front of you that makes all the decisions”. On the evening of this Sunday, December 26, Tottenham will still be three games behind their north London rival, Arsenal.

“The players take the Premier League to the highest level (…) I think you have to listen to them very carefully because nobody wants to damage what makes our league so incredible”

Mikel Arteta, Arsenal manager

at a press conference

So how to do it, especially since the upcoming African Cup of Nations (January 9 to February 6) will further restrict the possible options for Premier League coaches? For the moment, only a reduction of the semi-finals of the English League Cup to a single match – and no longer via a round trip system – is envisaged. Like last season. For the rest, nothing more for the moment.

Maintained for essentially financial reasons more than sporting, this series of end-of-year matches forgets an important fact: the players. Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson had spoken out a few days ago worried that “no one takes well-being into account” of those in the field. A message relayed by the coach of the Gunners, Mikel Arteta: “Players take the Premier League to the highest level and when they start saying such things I think you have to listen to them very carefully because nobody wants to damage what makes our league so amazing.”

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