The League said that the rise in cases at City “created uncertainty” and that the board agreed to rearrange as a precaution after “receiving medical advice that the match should be postponed… The decision has been taken with the health of players and staff the priority.” City had announced on Christmas Day that Gabriel Jesus, Kyle Walker and two staff members had contracted the virus but, after the squad were tested again on Sunday, three more positive tests were confirmed, taking the total in the space of just five days to seven.
The Telegraph in London is aware of the identity of the latest three players to be affected but cannot reveal their names because of medical confidentiality. The trio, who it is thought have yet to show symptoms, will have to self-isolate for at least 10 days.
City fear their squad could have been exposed to the highly contagious new variant of the virus, which has become particularly prevalent in London and the South East, following the trip to the capital to face Arsenal in the Carabao Cup last Tuesday.
City’s training ground has been closed indefinitely and was undergoing a deep clean yesterday. Guardiola’s squad – which stayed at home rather than in a hotel on Sunday night – will be tested again today to see if there has been a further spread of the virus amid fears Sunday’s league match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge could also be compromised. Three days later, City are due to face United at Old Trafford in their Carabao Cup semi-final.
After Tuesday’s planned tests, City are likely to conduct a further two rounds of testing before the Chelsea game, but the prospect of another postponement would present logistical headaches for City. They already had their home league fixture against Aston Villa – which was postponed due to the Manchester club’s delayed start to the season – to reschedule before last night’s postponement. The prospect of a third league postponement would raise serious concerns about when City will be able to play the games, particularly if they progress to the Carabao Cup final at United’s expense and to the latter rounds of the FA Cup and Champions League.
Leyton Orient had to forfeit their League Cup third-round tie against Tottenham in September following positive coronavirus tests, but City would not be thrown out of the competition if their semi-final against United had to be postponed.
The forfeit rule only applies to games up to and including the fourth round. The regulations state that all “reasonable endeavours” should be taken to rearrange a semi-final “at the earliest reasonable opportunity”. City suspect that the virus may have spread within their camp following their visit to London – where they stayed in a hotel – although there is no suggestion Arsenal’s COVID-19 protocols were not safe. City had beaten Newcastle 2-0 on Saturday night. Newcastle’s players and staff underwent routine testing on Monday not as a result of any prior warnings from City, and will get their results back on Tuesday ahead of their game against Liverpool on Wednesday night.
Although the risks of catching coronavirus on the pitch are known to be very low and there was limited contact behind the scenes before and after kick-off on Saturday, Newcastle will hope they face no fresh problems given the COVID-19 issues they have already had to contend with this season. Newcastle’s game against Villa on December 4 had to be postponed due to a COVID outbreak that also resulted in the Tyneside club having to shut their training ground for 10 days.
Captain Jamaal Lascelles and forward Allan Saint-Maximin have been badly affected by the virus. In a statement on Monday, City said: “After the latest round of COVID-19 testing, the club returned a number of positive cases, in addition to the four already reported on Christmas Day. With the security of the bubble compromised, there posed a risk that the virus could spread further amongst the squad, the staff and potentially beyond. Based on strong medical advice the Premier League, in consultation with both clubs, have decided to postpone the fixture.”
Chelsea manager Frank Lampard said if his side could not play City on Sunday, they would “keep working and keep everyone safe, that’s first and foremost”, adding: “I think we all sense that the next month might be a tough one, with what’s been happening before Christmas with COVID in general, the surge and the difficulties the public has got. Football is secondary in a sense.”
While saying he had “full confidence” in the league’s protocols, Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson said the situation was “very, very concerning”.
“What this is showing is that when the virus is spreading quite rapidly, it is impossible to totally shield people because they are human beings. My hope is that we can survive it and keep banging on through, as it were.
“But I would lie if I didn’t say I am concerned about the frequency of the virus at this moment in time.”
League One Rochdale and Doncaster and League Two Morecambe announced that their next games have been postponed due to COVID-19, while five games were unable to take place in the fifth-tier National League on Monday.
The Telegraph, London