The Premier League will hold emergency meetings with club owners and team managers next week to discuss the escalating Covid crisis, with some clubs calling for a Christmas 'firebreak' of fixtures.
Owners will meet with the league on Monday to receive an update on the effectiveness of emergency measures which were imposed a week ago but could not stop six Premier League fixtures from being postponed on Thursday.
A meeting with managers is set to follow later next week, after Brentford's Thomas Frank called for a suspension of fixtures to allow for infections to be brought under control and Newcastle's Eddie Howe said the the integrity of the league was endangered.
Although a firebreak is not understood to be on the league’s agenda at either meeting, owners and managers look set to bring it up. The Guardian also understands that, as yet, there have been no conversations with government over a potential reduction of crowd capacities at football matches.
Howe said he wanted the Premier League halted if only half the games can be played safely and teams are missing players because of Covid.
Five of this weekend's games have been called off, although Newcastle's match at home to Manchester City on Sunday is due to go ahead. City's manager, Pep Guardiola, has returned an inconclusive Covid test and will have a second, with his presence at the match in the balance.
“I don’t think we want half the games played and half not played,” Howe said. “The league really loses something if it becomes disjointed in terms of games played.
“When you start losing players to Covid then the worry is the competition becomes slightly unfair and I don’t think anyone wants to see that. A decision needs to be made to ensure integrity is maintained in the competition. I think it is on a knife edge.
“People want to see a fair league and not disparity in games and players missing. I’m desperate to continue the programme myself but the welfare of the players and supporters has to come first.”
Arsenal's manager, Mikel Arteta, also raised the issue of the competition's fairness as he addressed the crisis.
“We need more clarity on why those games are not being played and what you need to not have a game played, so you can maintain the fairness of the competition,” he said. “We have been here on the other side of the table [at the start of the season] where we had all the arguments in the world to not play a football match and we ended up playing it.”
Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp is not against a brief halt to the Premier League but said: “I just don’t see 100 per cent the benefit of it. Stopping the league means we stop now for one to two weeks, it means [missing] five to six games. So when do you want to play them?”
Guardiola cancelled his pre-game media conference on Friday while he awaited the follow-up test. He has continually stressed the need for safety to be a priority over football. If he does test positive then the assistant manager, Juan Manuel Lillo, could take charge at Newcastle.
By 3pm on Friday 19th weekend matches across the three divisions of the EFL had been called off.