The latest surge in positive COVID-19 cases has forced a change to the Premier League schedule, as Fulham will replace Aston Villa in a match against Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday.
The EPL previously delayed a match between Spurs and Fulham on Dec. 30, when Fulham was struggling with its own COVID-19 outbreak.
Aston Villa Requested Postponement
The need to make up that match gave the Premier League a chance to juggle its schedule. While Fulham was planning for a match with Chelsea on Friday, that game will move to Saturday to give the club enough rest time, and still allow for the midweek makeup date.
Ten Aston Villa first-team players tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend. Coach Dean Smith remains in self-isolation as well.
“Following Aston Villa’s request to rearrange the fixture, and due to the number of players and staff who have either tested positive for COVID-19 or have been placed in isolation by the club, the Premier League had no other option than to reschedule the game,” the Premier League said in a statement. “With the health of players and staff the priority, the League continues to work with Aston Villa on measures to ensure their League season resumes safely and at the earliest opportunity.”
DraftKings Sportsbook lists Tottenham as a -275 home favorite against Fulham (+750) in the rescheduled fixture. Fulham learned of the possibility of a midweek match only after it finished its 2-0 win over Queens Park Rangers in the FA Cup on Saturday, according to The Athletic.
The Premier League also pushed Aston Villa’s next match against Everton to Sunday from Saturday.
The shifting schedule highlights the increasing COVID-19 issues in the EPL. On Monday, the Premier League reported 36 positive coronavirus tests in its latest round of testing. That’s down slightly from last week, when the league found a record 40 positive COVID-19 tests.
The United Kingdom announced 573 COVID-19 deaths on Sunday, its highest Sunday total since April.
Premier League Grappling with COVID-19 Issues
In response, the Premier League has implemented new protocols, including requiring substitutes to wear face masks while on the bench. The league has also issued guidance that players and staff should avoid physical celebrations or swapping shirts, and should limit the number of people at training facilities.
Some players and officials have called for a pause to the Premier League season in the face of increasing case numbers.
“You can’t stop people from going away, you can’t stop people from playing football and naturally going to hug your teammate who assisted you – it’s something we’ve done for years,” Watford striker Troy Denney told talkSPORT. “Ultimately, it’s up to the powers that be to shut football down, and it doesn’t matter if it carries on into June or July like last year, or we talked about it week after week as people make mistakes.”
Others have warned that shutting down the Premier League could widen the gap between soccer’s haves and have nots.
“If we stop, everything will change. A new football will come,” Wolverhampton Wanderers manager Nuno Espirito Santo told reporters. “We will probably have a Super League, probably other competitions. It’ll be a matter of which clubs will survive. It’s a tough decision to make.”