Despite a COVID-19 outbreak among squad and staff members that has already resulted in the cancellation of two fixtures, Tottenham Hotspur is looking towards Thursday’s Premier League match against Leicester City with optimism. It seems that the match will proceed as scheduled, although not without its share of question marks.
Tottenham boss Antonio Conte confirmed in his pre-match press conference on Wednesday that both teams formally requested the match be postponed, but that both requests were rejected outright by the Premier League.
“The Premier League did not want to postpone the game against Leicester,” Conte said. “Maybe because we have to play Burnley and Brighton and had postponed two games before. Last week was terrible because the government decides, in the right way, to close the training ground and stop our training session. I had the press conference where it’s very difficult to speak about football. Then we had Thursday, Friday and Saturday without any sessions. Sunday we started again to work with not many players, because we also had problems with U23s.
“We started with 13/14 players [on Sunday] and today we had training with 16 players and more young players.”
To this point, no information has been given regarding what players are out with positive tests or close contacts.
Spurs returned to training on Monday at Hotspur Way Training Ground, a reason to be hopeful for the team’s chances to play on Thursday. Still, according to a report by Dan Kilpatrick of the Evening Standard, areas of the training ground remained closed, and the squad is depleted due to positive tests and close contact protocols forcing individuals into isolation. According to The Telegraph’s Matt Law, at least one player tested positive on Monday, and there is also a separate “large outbreak” among the Under-23 squad.
Leicester City is also dealing with a Covid-19 outbreak, as Brendan Rodgers confirmed Wednesday morning that his own squad is down at least nine players due to positive tests.
What are the Premier League rules for postponing matches due to Covid-19?
The Telegraph report states that a worst-case-scenario on Thursday could see Tottenham boss Antonio Conte with as few as 13 players available for selection. According to league guidelines cited by Sky Sports, the Premier League grants postponements for clubs that have fewer than 14 available players due to a Covid outbreak, although it will also consider other factors such as preparation time and the possibility of further spread “in exceptional circumstances.”
“In considering any application to postpone, the Board considers a range of sporting and medical factors. Each decision is taken on a case-by-case basis with everyone’s health of utmost importance,” the league stated in its release of the guidelines.
Had Thursday’s match been postponed, it would leave Spurs with three Premier League games to make up, after a trip to Burnley was snowed out on Nov. 28. That presents an increasingly tall order for a Tottenham team that is still hoping to reach a top four spot. Spurs are currently just three points out of fourth place, which would grant the final automatic berth to the lucrative UEFA Champions League.
With still over half the season to go, there would be open dates for rescheduling matches down the road, especially against teams like Burnley and Brighton which are not competing in European competitions. However, should Sunday’s scheduled match against Liverpool be called into question, it could prove more challenging to reschedule given Liverpool’s involvement on multiple competitive fronts.
Leicester City, meanwhile is scheduled to play in the Europa Conference League playoffs in February.
Tottenham’s Conference League match cancelled
Before the Premier League match against Brighton was postponed on Dec. 12, Tottenham’s COVID-19 outbreak had already resulted in the cancellation of its final group-stage match in the Europa Conference League on Dec. 9.
That match was scheduled against Group G leaders Stade Rennais, and third-place Spurs were entering the group finale with the hope of a win that would allow them to leapfrog Dutch side Vitesse into second place and advance to the Conference League playoffs.
With a decision yet to be reached on whether that match will be replayed, UEFA still included Tottenham’s name in the Conference League playoffs draw alongside that of Vitesse. UEFA’s Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body is working on determining next steps, and it’s unclear if Spurs will be given the chance to advance or whether it will have to forfeit.
Tottenham was set to host that Conference League match in London, and after it was scratched the club took the food previously ordered and donated it to the needy. The same thing happened with the meals pre-ordered for the trip to face Brighton.
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