LONDON – The English Premier League’s pandemic-affected schedule took a further hit on Saturday when a COVID-19 outbreak in Aston Villa’s squad sparked the postponement of its match against Burnley, reducing the number of fixtures in the round to four.
England continued to be the most heavily disrupted of the major soccer countries in Europe, reflecting the growing public health emergency in Britain as the omicron variant spreads.
So depleted was the Premier League schedule, there was only one game on Saturday -- Arsenal’s 4-1 win over Leeds. That was played despite Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta saying there had been more coronavirus cases among the club’s players and staff.
Villa-Burnley was scheduled to be the other game but it was called off around two hours before kickoff, with Villa telling the league it did not have enough players to field a team following more positive tests in its squad that were reported early Saturday.
The league approved Villa’s request to postpone the match “based on the number of COVID-19 cases, injuries and illness.”
Five matches scheduled for this weekend had already been called off because of coronavirus outbreaks in squads.
The league said the games set for Sunday — Newcastle-Manchester City, Wolverhampton-Chelsea and Tottenham-Liverpool — “are currently scheduled to proceed as planned.”
The total number of games to have been postponed over the past week stands at 10. Only six games were called off in the whole of last season because of the coronavirus.
Burnley has had two games postponed on the day of the fixture in the last four days. Its home match against Watford was also called off a few hours before kickoff on Wednesday.
Many Burnley fans would have been traveling to Villa Park when the postponement was announced and Villa apologized for the inconvenience, saying the club “acted as swiftly as possible this morning to minimize disruption.”
“The results of PCR tests, which were taken yesterday prior to training as well as lateral flow tests, were received this morning,” Villa said in a statement, “and confirmed further depletion of our playing squad which was already impacted upon for our trip to Norwich in midweek.”
Premier League managers will meet on Monday to discuss the COVID-19 situation, with some managers — such as Brentford's Thomas Frank — advocating a break in play to reduce the outbreaks, and others saying the games should continue.
The league has already reintroduced emergency measures such as more frequent testing and wearing face masks indoors. Its board assesses applications to postpone matches on a case-by-case basis and “based on existing rules and COVID-19 postponement guidance issued to all clubs.”
In Europe's other big soccer countries, there was minimal disturbance to the schedule.
All of the weekend’s Bundesliga and second-division games went ahead as planned in Germany, albeit with few or no fans attending. The country’s coronavirus-infection rate dropped again on Saturday, according to the latest registered figures from the Robert Koch Institute, continuing a gradual decrease over the last three weeks.
French Cup games were going ahead as planned, and Serie A games were taking place as scheduled with 75% capacity in stadiums.
The Spanish league was keeping games on despite an outbreak that has sidelined several Real Madrid players. Authorities have allowed soccer stadiums to be at full capacity since the end of September.
AP Sports Writer Ciaran Fahey in Berlin and Associated Press writers Daniella Matar in Milan, Italy, and Joseph Wilson in Barcelona, Spain, contributed to this story.
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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80