Premier League managers Thomas Tuchel and Dean Smith have criticised the decision to go ahead with the packed fixture schedule despite the Omicron outbreak, describing the pressure placed on players as ‘lunacy’.
Three of today’s games had been postponed by Christmas Eve as a result of player shortages, while clubs returned a record 90 positive tests last week.
However, the league have ruled out a circuit-breaking halt to matches after a meeting with managers on Monday.
Thomas Tuchel (left) and Dean Smith (right) have described this year’s Premier League packed schedule amid the Omicron crisis as ‘lunacy’
The Premier League is opting to play on at the moment despite Covid outbreaks in squads
Smith, who reported fresh Covid cases ahead of Sunday’s home game with Arsenal, said: ‘The festive schedule is difficult normally but it is nigh on impossible at the moment to ask players to play twice in 48 hours.’
‘At the moment I don’t know how we are going to do it. We have had to push rehab forward and people are breaking down because of that, and it’s asking massive questions of everybody’s squads.
‘It’s lunacy that we are having to play two games in 48 hours and there has got to be a question about the integrity of the competition when weakened teams are playing.’
Smith, who takes his 20th-placed side to Crystal Palace on Tuesday, revealed that the Covid crisis has already led him to put players’ welfare in jeopardy.
Norwich boss Smith claims the Covid crisis has led him to put players’ welfare in jeopardy
Norwich’s trip to West Ham last weekend was postponed because of illness and injury but Smith revealed he regretted not calling off the home game with Aston Villa on December 14.
‘We are in a dangerous situation now where we are risking the health and welfare of the players. Against Villa we had a player playing 90 minutes with a temperature of 38.4 degrees, which is not right,” he said.
Tuchel, whose side travel to Aston Villa on Sunday in the first of six matches over a fortnight, backed the call from Manchester United manager Ralf Rangnick for five substitutes to be reintroduced.
‘I would love to push for five substitutions, because five substitutions were made to protect the players during a difficult period when Covid popped up,’ he said. ‘The situation is very serious, very demanding and very challenging. For the health of the players, if we decide to continue playing we should at least have five substitutions.’
Tuchel (middle) has called for more substitutions in league games to help with the workload
The Premier League is unique among major leagues in Europe in reverting back to three subs after lawmakers allowed extra subs during the intense catch-up of fixtures following the three-month suspension of the season in 2020.
‘It’s of course for us the same situation as for everyone else and we have concerns [over Covid],’ Tuchel added. ‘We are not just football players and coaches, we are also fathers and family members so we are also concerned and have doubts and fears and uncertain situations which is not nice.
Tottenham manager Antonio Conte, meanwhile, described last week’s talks between managers and the Premier League as a waste of time.
Head coaches were hoping to express their concerns over the demands being placed on squads but Conte said it had been like talking to ‘a wall’.
Antonio Conte compared Thursday’s meeting with the Premier League to ‘talking to a wall’
Asked if the meeting was a waste of time, Conte said: ‘I think so.’ The Italian, whose squad is recovering from a Covid outbreak, added: ‘It was [like talking to] a wall and for this reason I also prefer to not go into it.
‘If I have to be honest, it was a meeting that we tried to speak – and some coaches tried to speak – to ask about solutions but I think everything was decided,” added Conte.
‘Because when you have a wall in front of you, you can speak and ask what you want but every decision was taken. They [the Premier League] decided the season would continue as was and we have got to fulfil fixtures now, so we have to cope as best we can.’
Spurs host Crystal Palace today even though the south London club have ‘a couple’ of Covid cases, according to Patrick Vieira, their manager. The Frenchman also found the meeting with the Premier League frustrating.
Patrick Vieira, who plays Conte’s Spurs on Sunday, added the same meeting was ‘frustrating’
‘When you have a meeting like that with 20 managers it is difficult to put your ideas across,’ Vieira said.
‘When the meeting finished you just try to understand what the outcome of the meeting was and what the meeting was for. I still didn’t understand what the conclusion was].’
Vieira called for better communication with the authorities. ‘The players, particularly at this club, what they want is to have proper communication,’ he said.
‘Players want to openly express themselves about what they are feeling and how the situation is and how they are living this situation.
‘At the moment I feel like there is no-one on the other side to really take into consideration how they are seeing things, what they are feeling.’