Leicester City's match with Tottenham has been postponed, the fourth fixture since last Sunday to fall foul of a wave of COVID-19 sweeps the Premier League.
Leicester saw further positive cases from the nine players sidelined with illness or the virus yesterday while Tottenham are only just recovering from a major bout of coronavirus that caused Sunday's clash with Brighton to be suspended. Both sides had requested the game's postponement earlier in the week -- Tottenham so they could fulfil their Europa Conference League match against Rennes -- but those requests were turned down by the Premier League.
However, a second request from Leicester, who have closed their training ground for 48 hours, has now been accepted amid calls for the league to take wider action and postpone the weekend's fixtures. It is a step the Premier League would take with extreme reluctance but record numbers of positive tests may yet compel them to act.
In a statement, the Premier League said: "The Premier League board has postponed Leicester City's match against Tottenham Hotspur tonight due to an increase in positive COVID-19 cases within Leicester's squad today. In light of the new information, Leicester applied this morning for the fixture to be called off due to an ongoing outbreak within the squad, which has resulted in more players and staff testing positive for COVID-19 today.
"This has left the club with an insufficient number of players available to fulfil the match. Following consultation with the Premier League and UK Health Security Agency, the club's first-team training ground was closed this morning to help contain the outbreak.
"The Premier League understands this decision will disappoint and frustrate fans who were due to attend this evening's match and apologises for the inconvenience and disruption caused at such short notice."
Thursday's game is the third on the midweek schedule to be wiped off the schedule due to a COVID-19 outbreak in a squad. Manchester United called off their trip to Brentford late on Monday night and Burnley's trip to Watford was postponed hours before kick off after a number of positives within the home side's squad. Chelsea's match with Everton on Thursday is currently due to go ahead but positive cases within the former's playing staff have placed doubt on that fixture.
Ahead of what are likely to be further requests from clubs for their games to be withdrawn from the fixture list, the Premier League added: "The Board assesses applications to postpone matches on a case-by-case basis, based on existing rules and COVID-19 postponement guidance issued to all clubs. It will assess a number of factors, including the ability of a club to field a team; the status, severity and potential impact of the COVID-19 outbreak at the club; and the ability of the players to safely prepare for and play the match.
"The Board must also consider the wider risks to the opposition and other people the club may come into contact with. With the health and wellbeing of all players and staff the priority, and in light of the recent rise in COVID-19 cases across the country, the Premier League has reintroduced emergency measures."
These include protocols such as more frequent testing, wearing face coverings while indoors, observing social distancing and limiting treatment time.
It will be Tottenham's third game this season postponed due to COVID cases and bad weather in Burnley last month caused that game to be called off at the last minute. In the medium term, Antonio Conte's side will be facing a major fixture headache with so many games to make up, but the Italian made clear his desire for the Leicester match to be rescheduled.
Speaking in his pre-match press conference, Conte said: "The Premier League didn't want to postpone the game against Leicester, maybe because we have to play against Burnley and Brighton. We can understand on one hand, in another I think that we deserved to play our chance against Rennes and don't find a good solution between UEFA and Premier League. Why does Tottenham have to pay for this?
"It's not fair that we have to pay for a situation that's not our fault. I understand if we did something wrong. We must be ready to accept every decision. For the club, for the players, for me and my staff it's very difficult to understand what is happening."
Meanwhile, Brentford manager Thomas Frank has called for all fixtures between Thursday and Dec. 26 to be postponed as his side battles an outbreak of their own. The Bees have had 13 individuals test positive, a number that increased mid-press conference as the Dane was interrupted by a message from his director of football Phil Giles informing him of four new cases overnight.
"We think we should postpone the full round of Premier League games this weekend," Frank said. "COVID cases are going through the roof at all Premier League clubs; everyone is dealing with it and having problems.
"To postpone this round and also the Carabao Cup round [next Tuesday and Wednesday] would give everyone a week at least, or four or five days to clean and do everything at the training ground so everything is clean and you break the chain."
Two weekend fixtures in the Championship -- Millwall vs. Preston and Reading vs. Luton -- have already been postponed. Those matches that do take place could be in front of diminished crowds with Britons now being advised not to attend football matches even without any limits in place on attendance. Dr. Nikki Kanani, medical director of primary care for NHS England, said that the sole reason to attend a football stadium should be when they are being used as vaccination centers.
"My advice would be, if you're going to go to a stadium at the weekend, make it one where you can get your vaccine or help out to give a vaccine, rather than going to watch a match," she said.