The Premier League schedule has been decimated as coronavirus outbreaks at clubs forced the postponement of five weekend matches, taking the total amount of games wiped out over the past week to nine.
The league said on Thursday its intention was “to continue its current fixture schedule where safely possible” although some managers have called for a brief suspension.
Adding to the postponement of the Manchester United-Brighton game on Saturday, the league said Southampton-Brentford, Watford-Crystal Palace, West Ham-Norwich (all Saturday) and Everton-Leicester (Sunday) were also off.
Only five league games remain to be played this weekend.
The league said its board was assessing applications to postpone matches on a case-by-case basis.
“The league understands fans will be disappointed these matches have had to be postponed and apologises for the inconvenience and disruption caused,” the Premier League said on Thursday.
Two matches were being played on Thursday night, with Liverpool hosting Newcastle and saying three players — Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho and Curtis Jones — were missing because of suspected positive tests for the virus.
Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel said three players – Romelu Lukaku, Timo Werner and Callum Hudson-Odoi – were all unavailable for the home game against Everton after positive tests. Ben Chilwell, who is out injured, also tested positive and Kai Havertz was missing beacuse he felt unwell.
The growing number of infections among squads reflected the worsening health emergency in Britain as the omicron variant spreads.
The training grounds of Leicester, Brentford and Watford have been closed because of what the league described as ongoing outbreaks. Norwich have insufficient players available to play because of COVID-19, injuries and other illnesses.
Brighton had wanted their match against Wolverhampton on Wednesday to be called off, with manager Graham Potter saying his team had “three or four” absences because of COVID-19 and seven players out in total. Brighton’s request was denied and the team lost 1-0.
“I think the path we’re on, I’m not sure how long we can stay on it for,” Potter said. “We all want football to continue, want life to continue as best as we can but health is the most important thing.
Brentford manager Thomas Frank went even further on Thursday, saying he wanted the weekend round of fixtures to be postponed to allow clubs to deal with the outbreaks.
Frank was informed midway through his news conference on Thursday, ahead of Brentford’s away match at Southampton on Saturday, of four more cases of the coronavirus among players and staff at the club. That took the total to 13.