Southampton have complained to the Premier League over what they perceive as a lack of transparency after their home match against Newcastle became the latest to be postponed. The game, scheduled for Sunday, was called off on Friday because Newcastle, for the second time in four days, have a shortage of available players owing to Covid and injury.
The Premier League board accepted an application from Newcastle, whose trip to Everton on Thursday also did not go ahead, for a postponement. League rules state that matches can be rearranged if clubs have fewer than 13 outfield players and one goalkeeper available, but there is mounting frustration at the blurred lines between players being absent because of Covid and injury. Southampton are among numerous clubs who believe they should be informed of the numbers behind a postponement.
Newcastle’s Allan Saint-Maximin, Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser sustained injuries against Manchester United on Monday, adding to the absentee list. Southampton feel they were operating under similarly challenging circumstances when injuries saw them field a youthful team in a 9-0 defeat at Old Trafford last season.
“There were times where we had nine out – and we played academy players,” the Southampton manager, Ralph Hasenhüttl, said this week. “Injuries are not Covid cases. They [Newcastle] had seven or eight players on the bench during their last game. They should still have 13 players plus one [goalkeeper].” Clubs must declare which “appropriately experienced” under-21 players are available.
Premier League rules on the suspension of matches have been the subject of much scrutiny, with Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta one of the managers to call for greater clarity. The rules were adjusted in light of the spread of the Omicron Covid variant and just before Christmas the league published a guide to match postponements that gave “more details on the process by which recent fixtures have had to be called off”.
The guide confirms that postponement decisions are taken by the Premier League board after an application by a club. Clubs must make a case for postponement but also list players who have taken a positive Covid test, and list their vaccination status. Medical information on injured players must also be shared, with the league’s medical officers reserving the right to crosscheck the information with club doctors.
Further considerations can also be applied. These include the possibility of an outbreak occurring too close to a fixture to be able to establish all those infected, and the inability of a team to prepare safely for a match, for example where the UK Health Security Agency has requested the closure of their training ground.
In recent weeks the Premier League has had meetings with club executives and managers at which the postponement process has been discussed.
Jürgen Klopp has said Liverpool have recorded three new positive Covid-19 cases but the manager does not believe Sunday’s game at Chelsea is close to being called off. The manager declined to name the trio because they are awaiting PCR test confirmations but those affected, plus Thiago Alcântara and Takumi Minamino, will be missing.
“Taki is running outside, Thiago not,” Klopp said. “On top of that we have three new Covid cases in the team and a few more in the staff so it’s not so cool in the moment. I’m not able to say who it is but it’ll be pretty clear on the teamsheet the day after tomorrow.
“We aren’t close to getting the game postponed yet. We haven’t had a proper outbreak yet but it’s happening more and more often. It’s like a lottery in the morning when you wait for the result. It was day-by-day pretty much another case and today another one.”