The English Premier League has confirmed 18 positive coronavirus tests among players and staff – the highest figure since weekly testing began.
Manchester City’s clash at Everton was postponed on Monday (local time) after an outbreak of multiple positive cases at City, while Tottenham’s clash with Fulham on Wednesday is in doubt as the club awaits the results of testing after a number of positive tests.
West Bromwich Albion manager Sam Allardyce has joined the call for a two-week ‘cooling off period’, arguing a “circuit break” was needed.
The Baggies boss insisted it was the “right thing” to cope with the outbreak.
“Everyone’s safety is more important than anything else,” the former England boss said after his side’s 5-0 home defeat to Leeds.
“When I listen to the news the variant virus transmits quicker than the original virus we can only do the right thing which is have a circuit break.
“I am 66 years old and the last thing I want to do it catch COVID. I’m very concerned for myself and football in general. If that’s what needs to be done we need to do it.”
The Premier League is reportedly unaware of any such talks taking place. However, pressure is likely to grow after both Sheffield United and Fulham were affected by new outbreaks.
Blades boss Chris Wilder revealed ahead of their 1-0 loss to Burnley that the club had seen “a couple” of players and “four or five backroom staff” test positive. Wilder’s starting eleven was unaffected but he was only able to name seven of a possible nine substitutes.
“It’s not an ideal situation …. but I want to play football,” he told SUTV.
“That’s how it is, we’re not looking to get anything canned. We did the right thing as far as our responsibility to the Premier League and notified them regarding the players that are ill.”
Fulham have also reportedly recorded a number of positive tests and the London derby at Tottenham is dependent on the results of the players and staff at Craven Cottage who are yet to receive their results.
Manchester City began retesting their squad on Tuesday in the hope they acted quickly enough to prevent a widespread outbreak of the disease after their game at Everton was called off at short notice due to a number of positive cases, while Arsenal confirmed on Monday that Brazilian defender Gabriel had tested positive for the virus.
Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl did not attend his side’s match with West Ham following a positive test in his household.
“The Premier League can today confirm that between Monday 21 December and Sunday 27 December, 1,479 players and club staff were tested for COVID-19. Of these, there were 18 new positive tests,” a Premier League statement read.
“Players or club staff who have tested positive will self-isolate for a period of 10 days.”
Nine games across the Championship, League One and League Two on Tuesday were postponed because of the virus, while Rotherham boss Paul Warne said his side are only playing their match with Barnsley to avoid a possible points deduction by the EFL.
Leeds, Arsenal, Burnley score big EPL wins
Meanwhile, Allardyce’s West Bromwich Albion came crashing back down to earth as they were humbled 5-0 at home by Leeds United in the Premier League.
After drawing at leaders Liverpool on Sunday, Sam Allardyce’s side were beaten by a bizarre own goal from Romaine Sawyers and then superb strikes by Ezgjan Alioski, Jack Harrison, Rodrigo and Raphinha.
The visitors recorded their biggest victory in the top flight since a 6-1 win over Charlton in 2003.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side kept back-to-back clean sheets for the first time this season to climb to 11th while West Brom remained second-bottom, already five points short of safety.
Arsenal made it consecutive wins with a 1-0 victory at Brighton. Substitute Alexandre Lacazette, dropped to the bench to accommodate recalled captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, coolly bagged the second-half winner just 21 seconds after replacing Gabriel Martinelli.
The Frenchman’s decisive 66th-minute strike moved the Gunners nine points clear of the relegation zone and further ease mounting pressure on manager Mikel Arteta.
“We know we’ve been struggling with results. The fact we won against Chelsea was a big boost because it was more relating to results than performances so to come here and get another win is massively important,” Arteta said.
“We had to hang on in the last few minutes but I’m proud for the boys and happy with the result.”
Arsenal had not won a league game in Brighton since a 1-0 triumph in April 1981.
The beleaguered Seagulls, who didn’t have Socceroos goalkeeper Mat Ryan on the bench at Amex Stadium, remain just two points above the drop zone.
Southampton recorded their second successive goalless draw in a cagey match against West Ham at St Mary’s.
Following a hard-fought draw at Fulham on Boxing Day, Southampton were unable to find the net in the absence of manager Ralph Hasenhuttl, who is in self-isolation after a member of his household tested positive for COVID-19.
The result leaves the Saints in ninth, but level on points with fifth-placed Aston Villa, while the Hammers move up to tenth.
Sheffield United remain bottom and winless after suffering their 14th defeat of the campaign. Ben Mee headed home the only goal of the game for hosts Burnley on 32 minutes to move them five points clear of the relegation places.
The Blades sit with a meagre haul of two points from 16 games, the first top-flight team without a victory at this point on the calendar since Bolton in 1902-03.
In the evening’s last match, a late Marcus Rashford strike has lifted Manchester United to within two points of the Premier League summit with a 1-0 win over Wolves at Old Trafford.
The short-handed visitors looked to have withheld a late onslaught but Rashford’s shot in the third minute of added time took a big deflection off Romain Saiss to leave Rui Patricio wrong-footed and United celebrating a fourth win in five.
Edinson Cavani had earlier seen a strike ruled out for offside.