Everton have been left seeking answers after their Premier League game with Manchester City on Monday night was postponed just hours before kick-off due to an outbreak among Pep Guardiola’s side. Last week both Gabriel Jesus and Kyle Walker tested positive for Covid-19 along with two other members of staff at the club, and at least three more positive test results are understood to have been returned on Monday ahead of their trip to Goodison Park.
But the match was not the only game to be postponed. In total, 15 of the 35 games due to be played on Monday across the top flight and National Leagues were postponed, with only one of those due to a waterlogged pitch.
On top of that depleted fixture list, League One clubs Doncaster Rovers and Rochdale were forced to postpone their next two and three games respectively due to positive Covid-19 tests, with League Two outfit Morecambe also forced to call off their next two matches.
It follows similar occurrences for Sunderland, Peterborough United, Ipswich Town, Rotherham United and Millwall, and as a result eight games have already been postponed from this weekend’s planned fixtures.
The worrying signs come after the UK posted its highest rise in daily coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, with the impact of the relaxation of restrictions over Christmas yet to be taken into account on the numbers due to the delay in symptoms developing and tests being carried out – sparking fears that much worse is to come in the coming weeks.
As a result, the Premier League and EFL will ramp up testing across clubs in January, first by increasing weekly testing from one round to two for clubs in tier 4 areas before doing the same across the entire league next month – along with the Championship, League One and League Two.
However, the immediate focus will remain on why City’s trip to Everton was postponed when guidelines at the start of the season suggested that any team that could field a line-up of 14 players would be forced to play despite a Covid-19 outbreak.
A statement read: “Everton Football Club regret the postponement of tonight’s match against Manchester City – not only for the 2,000 fans who would have been attending, but for supporters on Merseyside and across the world.
“Our players were prepared for the game, as were both the team staff and everyone at Goodison. Matchday is the most important date in our calendar. And this was a big one.
“Whilst Everton will always have public safety uppermost, we will be requesting full disclosure of all the information that Manchester City provided to the Premier League so the club can be clear on why this decision was taken.”
The Premier League, in agreeing to the postponement, insisted the health of players and staff was paramount.
“The board agreed to rearrange the game as a precaution, and further testing will now take place (on Tuesday),” said a statement.
“The decision has been taken with the health of players and staff the priority.”
The fixture was the second Premier League game to be called off this season due to positive tests for coronavirus – Aston Villa and Newcastle having been the first on 4 December due to cases within the Magpies’ camp.
The Premier League statement added: “The Premier League continues to have full confidence in its protocols and rules, and the way in which all clubs are implementing them.
“The League wishes those with Covid-19 a safe and speedy recovery and will rearrange the postponed fixture against Everton in due course.”
City’s training ground has been closed for the foreseeable future, with the rest of the squad having to undergo extensive further testing before any potential return can be considered.
The club’s next match is due to be at Chelsea on Sunday, which is then followed by their Carabao Cup semi-final against derby rivals Manchester United at Old Trafford on 6 January.
Chelsea manager Frank Lampard said he was in the dark over his side’s next two games – the meeting with City and their FA Cup third-round tie with Morecambe.
“It is a key time and a tough time,” Lampard said after Chelsea’s 1-1 home draw with Aston Villa. “I think we felt that coming as tier four came in with the surge.
“We have to get safety as paramount. I believe that’s why the game has been called off, because of the spread in the squad for Man City. From our point of view, I will find out in the next day or two because it has to be safe for the two teams: if not the game won’t go ahead.
“I think the Premier League will direct us on that but yes, it is a tough time. I am not surprised because the public and with how Covid is in the UK is difficult for everybody.
“Football isn’t different all the time so we will have to see what the PL come up with but safety is paramount.”
National League games at Barnet, Boreham Wood, Chesterfield, Dagenham and Redbridge and Sutton were postponed on Monday after positive tests were returned at various clubs.
Additional reporting by PA
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