Premier League considering changing rules around match postponements

Spurs boss Antonio Conte was perplexed by the Premier League’s decision to postpone Sunday’s game with Arsenal

The Premier League is looking into changing its guidance around match postponements after criticism over the number of games being called off.

This season, 22 fixtures have been postponed because of Covid-19 cases, injuries and international call-ups.

The league has been criticised recently, amid claims that clubs were manipulating the rules around what warranted postponements.

New guidelines could be in place for 8 February.

It is understood early discussions have taken place in the last few days following controversy over the league’s decision to grant Arsenal’s request to postpone Sunday’s north London derby at Tottenham.

There will not be enough time to implement changes for this weekend but when the Premier League resumes after its two-week winter break on 8 February, an agreement over amended guidance is likely to have been reached.

Premier League clubs were told in December that they should fulfil matches if they had a goalkeeper and 13 outfield players available, in reaction to a number of matches being called off because of Covid-19 outbreaks.

However, clubs have been allowed to include players injured and on international duty on their list of absentees when applying for a postponement.

Officials believe now might be the time to amend the Premier League’s rules, with Covid restrictions in England set to be eased, and the number of top-flight players testing positive falling for the third successive week.

After Wednesday’s games, there will still be 20 outstanding Premier League matches to rearrange, all but four of which were originally called off for Covid-related reasons.

It has already been decided the forthcoming winter break will not be used to reschedule any of these games, which means they will have to be played in weeks reserved for European competition.

Even then, there are bound to be some issues.

Leicester were four matches behind schedule before Wednesday’s rearranged home game against Tottenham, and will also have to reschedule a match against Chelsea – moved from late February because Thomas Tuchel’s side have reached the Carabao Cup final.

As Brendan Rodgers’ team are still in Europe and the FA Cup, they could reach a point where they have to play twice in a single midweek to fit all their games in.

Burnley, meanwhile, have only played 17 league games this season. Their past two games – at home to Leicester and Watford – were called off, while their matches with Aston Villa and Everton were postponed in December because of Covid-19 cases among the opposing teams.

The Clarets’ match with Tottenham in November was also called off 50 minutes before kick-off because of heavy snow at Turf Moor.

What has been said about postponements?

Former Manchester United captain Gary Neville has been particularly critical of the league’s rules over postponements, saying Covid-enforced postponements had now become “about clubs not having their best team”.

Tottenham boss Antonio Conte, speaking on Tuesday, said he found the decision to postpone Sunday’s north London derby against Arsenal “strange and surprising”.

“We should not postpone games for injuries, for international duty,” said Conte.

“I think we have a big problem to solve and it’s Covid, but only about this situation can you decide to postpone, not for other situations.

“Honestly, it’s my first time in my life – and I’ve had a bit of experience in football – I’ve seen this type of decision. It was very strange.”

The Premier League has defended itself by pointing out that managers were complaining around Christmas time that players risked burnout if they were forced to play during a hectic schedule with squads reduced by illness.

Speaking on Wednesday, Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta defended the club’s decision to request the postponement of the Tottenham game.

“We didn’t have the players necessary to put a squad out to compete in a Premier League match, that is 100%,” Arteta said before Thursday’s Carabao Cup semi-final second leg against Liverpool.

“This is a no-win situation. When we play the first three games of the season when other games were off, we were killed and called naive. Now we postpone a match for all the right reasons, believe me, and we get these reactions?”

When asked about changing the Premier League’s rules to make them more transparent, Arteta added: “Yes, but you have to do that from the beginning.

“It is tricky. Everyone has to try to do the right thing and if we have to change things, then let’s change them, but let’s all act in the same way.”

Aston Villa chief executive Christian Purslow said the league’s current guidelines around Covid-related postponements are “no longer fit for purpose”.

“They were well-intentioned at the time but to have a situation where clubs are applying for games to be postponed with just one or two positive Covid cases was never the intention of the rules,” Purslow told the Timesexternal-link.

“I have asked the Premier League to review the situation and I hope that happens as a matter of urgency.”

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