London (AFP) – Liverpool are set to take on Atletico Madrid at a packed Anfield on Wednesday but several Arsenal players are in quarantine after the first postponement of a Premier League game over coronavirus fears.
Jurgen Klopp’s European champions will play the Spanish side in front of more than 50,000 fans in the northwest of England despite extreme measures taken elsewhere in Europe to limit the spread of the virus.
Six people have died in Britain from COVID-19, with more than 450 confirmed cases, but until now it has been business as usual for football despite the havoc inflicted on the global sporting calendar.
The Manchester City v Arsenal match, due to take place at the Etihad on Wednesday, was postponed as a “precautionary measure”, according to the Premier League. There are no plans to cancel other matches.
Several Arsenal players are in self-isolation after Olympiakos owner Vangelis Marinakis contracted coronavirus but they are expected to return to training on Friday if they remain symptom-free.
Marinakis, who also owns Championship side Nottingham Forest, met several Arsenal players when the Gunners hosted the Greek side in a Europa League match last month.
Olympiakos players, staff and board members have all tested negative and Nottingham Forest have also returned no positive tests.
Arsenal’s opponents on Saturday, relegation-threatened Brighton, said that game was still scheduled to go ahead “following consultation with the Premier League and medical advisors”.
The postponement of the City game means Premier League leaders Liverpool can now no longer wrap up their first title in 30 years this weekend.
Klopp’s side would have been crowned champions for the first time since 1990 had City had lost to Arsenal and then also been beaten by Burnley on Saturday.
But if Pep Guardiola’s team lose, Liverpool could secure the title on Monday at the home of local rivals Everton.
– Europa League shutout –
This week’s Europa League away matches involving Manchester United, Rangers and Wolves will be played behind closed doors while Chelsea’s Champions League tie against in Bayern Munich on March 18 will also be played in an empty stadium.
The Europa League tie between Sevilla and Roma in Spain and Inter Milan’s game against Getafe in Italy have been postponed.
But Italian side Atalanta’s Champions League game at Valencia went ahead as planned on Tuesday even though Italy has more than 10,000 coronavirus cases — the most outside China.
Wolves condemned the decision not to postpone their match away to Greek side Olympiakos on Thursday.
“Our position is that the trip poses unnecessary risks to our players, staff, supporters and the families of all who travel, at such critical and uncertain times,” a club statement said.
Matches in the top two divisions in Spain and France will be played behind closed doors for at least the next two weeks following the decision by Italy’s government to suspend top-flight games until April 3.
Despite the growing crisis, Rangers boss Steven Gerrard said the Scottish Premiership should be played to a finish, even if it means staging games in empty stadiums.
“I think it would be a real big shame for everyone around Europe and the world if the league campaigns and cup competitions can’t finish, because people have earned the opportunity to get to the stage where everyone is at,” he said.
“So I don’t want to see anything finish right now. If we are told the only way to get stuff finished off (is to play behind closed doors) and we are told to do that we will follow.”
Klopp said Tuesday he was unsure whether closing stadiums would help tackle the coronavirus and Guardiola admitted he did not like the idea of matches being played in empty stadiums.
“The problem with football games is if you are not at the stadium you are in closed rooms watching, maybe together,” said the Liverpool boss, whose side need to overturn a 1-0 defeat from the first leg of their last-16 tie.
“I’m not sure what is better in this case.”
Guardiola, whose side are due to host Real Madrid in the Champions League next week, said: “We are here for the people.
“If it’s just one or two games, OK, but not longer. We play for them and if they cannot be there, then there is no sense. I wouldn’t love it.”
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