• Nathan Smith

Premier League Postponements: What's the solution?

Updated: Jan 21

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a wave of frustrating but understandable postponements throughout football since it was first discovered.

With clubs across the world looking to minimise the spread and prevent any more cases to their players, staff and families, a game being called off made sense and was the correct thing to do.

However, a recent trend has emerged in the Premier League with clubs calling games off despite only having a small number of COVID cases, but players out through injury and suspension.

This has led many to wonder whether some teams are just using COVID as an excuse not to put out weakened teams, when they actually have enough players available to field a team.

But what is the solution? Let's have a look...

This issue has flared up in recent weeks due to two postponements, that looked a little suspect in the eyes of many onlookers, this being Liverpool calling off their EFL Cup semi final first leg vs Arsenal, and the Gunners calling off the North London Derby this past weekend.

Initially, Liverpool's postponement seemed understandable, with the club shutting down their training facility due to a rising number of COVID cases and therefore no one was able to train.

What made people suspicious though was the interview given by Jurgen Klopp after his return from the virus, where he stated that their were a lot of 'false positives' in the Liverpool camp.

And while that may be true, the chances of getting one false positive is extremely low, so to get more than one appeared strange to many.

A week later, Liverpool were able to field a strong team against Arsenal, and while that led to a 0-0 draw, it was almost the straw the broke the camel's back in many football fans eyes, in regards to the postponements.

It should also be noted that Liverpool have one of the highest vaccination rates out of all the Premier League clubs, and that will have shortened the isolation time.

Arsenal's most recent postponement was another that made many suspicious to how bad their problems really were.

Ahead of a crucial North London Derby fixture, Arsenal only had one COVID case in Martin Odegaard but decided to request a postponement due to player availability.

Mikel Arteta's side did have injury problems going in, but postponing a game with only one COVID case put a lot of doubts on the legitimacy of calling the game off.

This coupled with the fact that Arsenal let two players, Folarin Balogun and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, go out on loan and their under 23 side playing a match on the Friday, had a lot of people accusing Arsenal of taking the easy way out.

But did Liverpool or Arsenal do anything wrong?

Not really.

The Premier League's stance on COVID postponements has been pretty weak from the get-go and it is no surprise to see clubs using the league's lack of action to their advantage.

While perhaps Liverpool's case should have been looked into, Arsenal's game against Spurs should have never been postponed but who can blame them for using the Premier League's lack of integrity to their benefit?

But as mentioned earlier, what is the actual solution to this?

Well, we have to accept that there will be postponements for at least the next few years due to the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and it's constant mutations.

However, the Premier League cannot allow for clubs to continue to congest the fixture schedule and take the easy way out.

The rule currently is that teams must have 14 players fit, including one goalkeeper and if it falls below that, then the game should be called off, and this is a rule that applies throughout English football.

The difference is that these top-flight teams have full under 23 and under 18 teams that also play regular football in their academy divisions, and therefore, it is almost impossible not to be able to field a full team or bench if you have a low amount of COVID cases.

Bayern Munich recently filled a bench with players that had never made a Bundesliga appearance, so why isn't that possible for English teams?

Injuries are a very normal part of football, and the fact that clubs can now use that as a reason to call off games is setting a very dangerous precedent for this season, in regards to the competitive integrity of the Premier League.

Leeds have shown that this is more than possible, often fielding a bench with plenty of academy players due to their ongoing injury crisis.

All in all, the higher-ups in England's top-flight must put their foot down and protect what's left of the competitive integrity of this year's Premier League and stop clubs using COVID as an excuse to not play.