Manchester United will not handed a bye into the Carabao Cup final if Manchester City cannot face their neighbours in their scheduled semi-final next week. The two Manchester clubs are set to do battle a week on Wednesday at Old Trafford in a one-legged final four clash in hope of sealing a spot at Wembley in March.
But doubts have been cast on City’s ability to fulfil the fixture following the postponement of their Premier League match with Everton on Monday night due to a spate of positive coronavirus tests.
Just hours before kick-off at Goodison Park, a City statement confirmed: “After the latest round of Covid-19 testing, the club returned a number of positive cases, in addition to the four already reported on Christmas Day.
“With the security of the bubble compromised, there posed a risk that the virus could spread further amongst the squad, the staff and potentially beyond.
“Based on strong medical advice the Premier League, in consultation with both clubs, have decided to postpone the fixture.”
With Gabriel Jesus and Kyle Walker both confirmed to have contracted COVID-19, the addition of other positive tests have seen City close their training ground “for an indeterminate period”.
City added that the squad and associated bubble will undergo testing before any decision is made for training to resume.
And that has led to speculation as to whether United will get a bye into the final of the Carabao Cup if Pep Guardiola’s side are unable to play the Red Devils next week.
Earlier this season, fellow semi-finalists Tottenham – who face Brentford – were given free passage to the fourth round of the competition having been due to face Leyton Orient.
The League Two club returned 17 positive COVID tests and an EFL statement read: “The round three tie scheduled for Tuesday, 22 September between Leyton Orient and Tottenham Hotspur could not take place following the issue by Waltham Forest Borough Council of an order preventing the match being played as planned.”
However, Carabao Cup rules state that the forfeit rule only stands for games up to and including round four – meaning United are highly unlikely to get a spot in the final without having to play a semi-final.
The non-fulfilment of fixtures protocol states: “5.1 – A club which is unable to fulfil its obligation to complete a competition match in Round One to (and including) Round Four due to either:
“5.1.1 – That club’s player(s) having returned a positive CAT result and self-isolating in accordance with the action plan set out in the Return to Play/Return to Training Protocols resulting in the club having a sufficient number of players to fulfil the fixture; or…
“5.1.2 – Any requirements or directions of the UK government and/or any public authority…
“Shall forfeit the fixture, pay the opposing club’s expenses in accordance with Rule 5.8 and the opposing team shall receive a bye into the next round of the competition.”
Rule 5.3 then states that if a club is unable to fulfil its obligation to complete a match in round five or the semi-final, “the Management Committe shall uses its reasonable endeavours to rearrange the fixture for the earliest reasonable opportunity (including but not limited to arranging for the match to be played at a neutral venue”.
It adds: “Where the Management Committe determine that the fixture cannot be rearranged, the Management Committe shall have the poer to declare that the fixture shall be abandoned.
“Where the Management Committe declare that the fixture shall be abandoned, the club shall forfeit the fixture, pay the opposing club’s expenses in accordance with Rule 5.8 and the opposing team shall receive a bye into the next round of the competition.”
The Carabao Cup final has been pushed back from February to April in hope of getting fans inside Wembley for the showpiece fixture.
And with the match now scheduled to take place at England’s national stadium on April 25, that means there should be ample opportunity for the semi-final fixture between City and United to be rearranged if necessary.
A decision has yet to made on the match with it also currently unknown as to whether or not City will be able to face Chelsea in the Premier League on Sunday.
Given City’s training ground has been closed for at least a few days, however, more postponements are seen as likely as the Citizens look to ensure the health and safety of their players and staff.