Two more Premier League matches have been struck off the fixture list with Boxing Day's early kickoffs -- Liverpool vs. Leeds and Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Watford -- postponed due to COVID-19 cases.
Requests from Leeds and Watford to rearrange the matches were accepted by the Premier League board on Thursday morning, taking the total number of top flight matches postponed due to COVID-19 this season to 14. Despite this, the league insisted it intends to plough on with its festive fixture list, which will see some clubs play three games in the space of six days.
A statement said: "The board concluded that Leeds will not be able to fulfil their fixture this weekend due to the number of players with COVID-19, injuries and illness. The club's training ground has also been closed after consultation with the UK Health Security Agency and the Premier League.
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"Watford FC continue to have an insufficient number of players to field a team after their game against Crystal Palace FC last Saturday was postponed following a COVID-19 outbreak. Due to players coming out of isolation, it is fully expected Watford will be available for their fixture on Tuesday 28 December, against West Ham United."
News of the two further postponements came after Monday's meeting between Premier League clubs saw them opt against voting on whether to postpone either a specific matchday or part of the season entirely. The league's most recent bout of testing, conducted from Dec. 13-19, found 90 positive cases from 12,345 cases. Monday also saw confirmation that 16 percent of players are currently unvaccinated.
Thursday's announcement of the two postponements saw the Premier League note its desire to "give clarity" to travelling fans after it came in for criticism over late postponements in other instances. Watford's trip to Burnley was taken off the schedule just two and a half hours before kickoff, by which time some supporters had already completed their journey from Hertfordshire to Lancashire, while the league insisted Leicester's match with Tottenham should go ahead until midday on matchday.
The two games postponed so far are perhaps not unduly surprising in light of recent events. CBS Sports can reveal that Leeds had received late positive tests prior to their game against Arsenal on Saturday. They did not, however, request that the Premier League postpone their game. Marcelo Bielsa's side, who have been racked by injuries, noted that they do not have enough "recognized first-team players" to fulfil the game.
Five players have tested positive for COVID-19. The club says: "All of the cases we have experienced are asymptomatic which we believe is due to our high vaccine take up." Their Thorp Arch training ground has been postponed for two days.
That Leeds' match was called off due to five cases could well prompt questions from clubs such as Chelsea, who had a request to postpone their match against Wolves declined by the Premier League board despite seven positive cases within the club.
Watford, meanwhile, still have players in isolation that caused them to miss games against Burnley and Crystal Palace. It has been reported that they had to call off the former match specifically because they had unvaccinated players who had to isolate for 10 days after coming into contact with a positive case. In the U.K. any vaccinated individual only needs to test negative to carry on with their daily life.
Heading into the most intense period of league fixtures of the season, the sporting ramifications of these postponements could be significant. Arsenal, who play Norwich on Dec. 26, will now face a fully rested Wolves side two days later. Bruno Lage's side, which was fully vaccinated by October and has largely avoided significant numbers of COVID-19 cases, will have gone seven days without a game.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp had bemoaned the fixture list giving his side games on Dec. 26 and 28 but will now have more time to prepare his squad for the trip to Leicester three days after Christmas. Klopp and his counterparts at the league's other 19 clubs were meeting today to discuss the toll on players though after Monday's decision at executive level they are unlikely to be able to influence major changes on the fixture list.