Everton were left furious with the Premier League on Monday night after their Premier League clash with Manchester City was postponed following a worrying coronavirus outbreak among Pep Guardiola’s squad.
Sportsmail understands that three of City’s team returned positive tests on Monday, with the Premier League game at Goodison Park dramatically called off around five hours before kick-off.
Kyle Walker and Gabriel Jesus were already in self-isolation along with two other staff members after contracting the virus last week, before another trio of players tested positive.
Gabriel Jesus was among the Manchester City players to have previously tested positive
Kyle Walker is currently isolating and missed the Premier League game against Newcastle
City sources suspect the sudden outbreak – now seven confirmed cases since Christmas Day – was caused by last week’s 4-1 Carabao Cup victory at Arsenal.
While Guardiola’s team is believed to have travelled to and from London on the day to minimise risk, they did spend time in a hotel pre-match and fear contraction of the contagious new strain, VUI-202012/01.
The decision to postpone the trip to Everton was taken at an emergency Premier League meeting and made on medical advice as a precautionary measure. Similarly, Newcastle’s match against Aston Villa did not take place after five players tested positive earlier this month.
A terse club statement read: ‘Everton Football Club regret the postponement of tonight’s match against Manchester City – not only for the 2,000 fans who would have been attending, but for supporters on Merseyside and across the world.
‘Our players were prepared for the game, as were both the team staff and everyone at Goodison. Matchday is the most important date in our calendar. And this was a big one.
‘Whilst Everton will always have public safety uppermost, we will be requesting full disclosure of all the information that Manchester City provided to the Premier League so the Club can be clear on why this decision was taken.’
Pep Guardiola’s side will await the rescheduled fixture date and the Chelsea game is at risk
City’s cases are on the rise, with a fuller extent of the club’s escalation expected after another round of testing on Tuesday. The City Football Academy has been closed indefinitely and currently undergoing a deep clean.
Monday’s developments leaves Sunday’s visit to Chelsea in severe doubt and a further postponement there would place City three games behind the majority of their rivals.
Next Wednesday’s Carabao Cup semi-final at Manchester United will be rearranged rather than forfeited in the event of City being unable to fulfil the tie.
Rescheduling a number of games in an already truncated season would represent a significant headache, with City still in all four competitions. City have, however, been keen to stress that postponing Monday night’s match was the only logical course of action given the potential ramifications.
City beat Newcastle on Boxing Day without Jesus and Walker, who were isolating
Pep Guardiola’s side are currently sixth in the Premier League table after 14 games
‘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,’ a City statement read.
‘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.
‘All positive cases involving players and staff will observe a period of self-isolation in accordance with Premier League and UK Government protocol on quarantine.’
Everton were furious with the Premier League’s move to postpone the game. They had been made aware the fixture was potentially in jeopardy mid-morning but they received no contact from the Premier League until after the emergency meeting had taken place.
Guardiola will be concerned about the health and fitness impact on his players
It was then made clear to them that the decision had already been made and that left Goodison officials enraged, as there had been no precedent for making such a late call. Everton wanted to play and had started their pre-match preparations at the Hilton Hotel in Liverpool, their usual base.
An indication of the depth of feeling about the move is reflected in the fact that Everton will now ask the Premier League for full disclosure on how they arrived at the decision and want transparency on the reasons behind it.
Some would argue that the postponement actually benefits Everton, as they would have been without key players Allan, James Rodriguez, Richarlison, Lucas Digne and Fabian Delph but there was frustration within the squad when they were disbanded late in the afternoon and sent home.
Guardiola was unsure who he was going to have available on Monday morning and said after Saturday’s 2-0 win over Newcastle: ‘Covid is here. It is not just here in Man City, it is all around the world attacking hard so that’s why we have to be careful and what we want is the next days is for Kyle and Gabriel not to have symptoms and recover.’
City are scheduled to face Manchester United in the Carabao Cup next Wednesday
Newcastle boss Steve Bruce was fearful for City after the two initial positive tests, claiming his team are still shaken by their experiences earlier in the month.
‘I hope, for City’s sake, they don’t go into double figures,’ Bruce said. ‘We are witnessing the after-effects. We have still got problems with it. It doesn’t just come and go over you. It has been a big factor over the last couple of weeks.’
Ilkay Gundogan, Riyad Mahrez and Aymeric Laporte all tested positive earlier in the season, missing a number of games between them, but this is City’s first postponement of the campaign.
Should all of Tuesday’s tests return negative the prospect of the Chelsea match going ahead has not yet been ruled out.
The Premier League said: ‘This rise [in cases at City] has created uncertainty and the Premier League Board received medical advice that the match should be postponed. The board agreed to rearrange the game as a precaution.
‘The decision has been taken with the health of players and staff the priority. The Premier League continues to have full confidence in its protocols and rules, and the way in which all clubs are implementing them.’